Word Confusion: Knot vs Naught or Nought vs Not

Posted February 10, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 4 September 2017

I rarely come across a word confusion of knot for not, however, writers are frequently confused over naught and nought versus not. I can only assume they believe it’s an old-timey version of this negative. It doesn’t help that the four are heterograhs.

It’s nought to say that readers can not figure out what the author meant to write, but what’s the point of knotting them up and pulling them out of the story, which only leads to the story going for naught?

When the confusion does arise, it’s generally because someone is being pretentious; there really isn’t any reason to use naught or nought unless you’re writing an historical novel. And if you are, you OUGHT to know the difference! You would be quite naughty if you didn’t!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Knot Naught
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Dictionary.com: naught

“Constrictor Knot How To” courtesy of Chris 73 under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

“Noughts and Crosses” by Thomas Nugent is under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

“Age Warning Symbol” by John Gustafsson is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The red slash is a universal symbol for “not”.

Part of Grammar:
Plural for the Noun: knot, knots

Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: knots
Past tense or past participle: knotted
Gerund or present participle: knotting

Noun; Pronoun

Naught and nought are variant spellings of each other.

Fastening made by tying a piece of string, rope, or something similar 1

Small, relatively short-billed sandpiper 2

Knob, protuberance, or node in a stem, branch, or root

Unit of speed, equivalent to one nautical mile per hour

Verb, intransitive:
[Of the stomach] Tighten as a result of nervousness or tension

To become tied or tangled in a knot

To form knots or joints

Verb, transitive:
Act of fastening with a knot

Cause a muscle to become tense and hard

To tie in a knot

Form a knot in

To secure or fasten by a knot

To form protuberances, bosses, or knobs in

  • Make knotty


[Archaic] Worthless

  • Useless

[Obsolete] Morally bad

  • Wicked

[Obsolete] Not

The digit “0”





Used to express the negative of other words

Used with a quantifier to exclude a person or part of a group

Less than

I have mastered a clove hitch knot and a slipknot.

A little knot of people clustered in the doorway.

Some days the vessel logged twelve knots.

George and Paul tied the knot today!

Verb, intransitive:
My stomach knotted up just thinking about it.

Your muscles are so knotted up.

Verb, transitive:
I prefer to knot my scarf loosely.

A troop of young boys were quickly knotting carpets.

Ach, it’ll come to naught.

Battle taught him that his ideals were naught.

He’s to have naught to do with ye, gel.

Naught a’tall, a’tall, mate.

Make it an even $1,000,000 by adding six noughts after that one.

It was all for nought.

All his efforts will have been for naught.

He’s naught but a worthless fool.

He’ll bring his efforts to naught.

Do not keep in touch.

He has been warned not to steal.

Not all poems are serious.

The brakes went on not ten feet from us.

Adjective: knotless, knotlike
Noun: knotter
History of the Word:
1 Old English cnotta is related to the Dutch knot.

2 Late Middle English is of unknown origin

Old English nāwiht or -wuht are from (no) + wiht (thing). Middle English contraction of nought.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Pinterest Photo Credits

Hunter’s Bend Final and Boa Knot How To by Chris 73, used under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.