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What's the difference between these two questions (if there is any)?

Ist dir nichts aufgefallen?

And

Ist dir etwas aufgefallen?

I don't know why I feel like both would be translate to: Did you notice anything?

Also a side question, should "nichts" and "etwas" be capitalized here, since they both serve as nouns?

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  • 1
    google translator: Didn't you notice anything vs Did you notice something
    – Holger
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 7:04

2 Answers 2

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The presupposition or implication of both sentences differ.

"Ist dir etwas aufgefallen?" == "Did you notice anything?" is neutral (other than the fact that the speaker talks about the possibility of noticing something at all!). It implies that the answer might be "no" just as well as "yes". This is the kind of question that a trained investigator would ask in order not to "lead" a witness.

"Ist dir nichts aufgefallen?" == "Didn't you notice anything?" is not neutral; it implies that there really was something that an attentive person might have noticed. A speaker asking this has a pretty good idea of what that thing would have been.

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  • +1.this. The intention or preposition of the asker is the difference Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 9:55
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  • nichts = nothing
  • etwas = something
  • irgendetwas = anything

But in English you use anything much more often than you would use irgendetwas in German. In English you use anything even if you would use nichts or etwas in German.

Here are the correct translations:

Ist dir nichts aufgefallen?
Did you notice nothing?
Better English (but not a direct translation): Didn't you notice anything?

Ist dir etwas aufgefallen?
Did you notice something?

Ist dir irgendetwas aufgefallen?
Did you notice anything?
Also: Did you notice anything wrong?


About capitalization:

Capitalization is nominalization because in German all nouns are written with a capital first letter while all other words are not. So, to find out, if the word has to be written with an uppercase first letter you have to find out if it's used as a noun.

  • The word »nichts« is an indefinite pronoun and means the absence of everything.
  • The word »das Nichts« is a noun. It has three meanings:
    • A void space, i.e. a space that contains nothing
    • In Philosophy: The opposite of the existance as a concept
    • With indefinite article (»ein Nichts«): a worthless or irrelevant person

So, it has to be »nichts« in your sentence. Capitalized »Nichts« would be wrong. For »etwas«/»Etwas« there are similar arguments.

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  • Thanks for the detailed answer. I'm still at the level where I have to find a proper English translation for every German sentence I came across for me to understand it Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 11:04

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