Definition of zero in English:


cardinal number

  • 1No quantity or number; nought; the figure 0:

    ‘figures from zero to nine’
    ‘you've left off a zero—it should be five hundred million’
    • ‘Contemporaries in the media gave their own ballpark figures, each adding a zero to the figure I already had.’
    • ‘In these places areal strain rates are nearly zero or negative.’
    • ‘Even with market interest rates at zero, few in Japan want to borrow or invest.’
    • ‘Overall, the total number of criterion satisfied averaged 4.18 but ranged from zero to nine.’
    • ‘The second clock was numbered zero through nine, and the smallest one, the one in the middle was the same, zero through nine.’
    • ‘For part-time temporary staff, the figure was zero.’
    • ‘Those who wrote these regulations just forgot to put a zero behind the figures.’
    • ‘The vote has been re-opened with the figures reset to zero.’
    • ‘It was quite a feat to hold the Cardinals to zero runs in 27 innings.’
    • ‘Press one number, zero through nine, on each of ten squares and arrange the letters on each square as shown in the photo.’
    • ‘Unless your doctor says you're low in iron, look for a brand with zero to nine milligrams.’
    • ‘He may not understand how to add or subtract zero as a quantity, she added.’
    • ‘Generally speaking, the closer the figure is to zero, the more closely the fund replicates the index.’
    • ‘The false negative rate was 38.1% and the false positive rate was zero.’
    • ‘Participants select six numbers between zero and nine to take part in the lottery, which runs from Monday to Friday.’
    • ‘Expect a top speed of over 120 mph, and to travel from zero to 60 mph in just over nine seconds.’
    • ‘The Federal Reserve can cut short-term interest rates down to zero, but that won't make consumers feel safer about flying.’
    • ‘By this time, our expectations have gone so negative, that even a zero seems positive.’
    • ‘It's like when somebody years ago figured out that zero was a number.’
    • ‘He is going to magnify his efforts without knowing that any quantity multiplied by zero is still zero.’
    nought, nothing, cipher, nil, 0
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    1. 1.1 A point on a scale or instrument from which a positive or negative quantity is reckoned:
      ‘the gauge dropped to zero’
      [as modifier] ‘a zero rate of interest’
      • ‘Since this was a theatrical feature, the chapters will be rated on a scale of zero to four stars.’
      • ‘U.S. News has our diversity index at 0.27 on a scale of zero to 1.0.’
    2. 1.2 The temperature corresponding to 0° on the Celsius scale (32° Fahrenheit), marking the freezing point of water:
      ‘the temperature was below zero’
      • ‘Roads and footpaths became skating rinks yesterday as temperatures dipped below zero - again.’
      • ‘They can stand temperatures of 35F below zero and their normal life span is two years.’
      • ‘The temperature is well below zero, puddles of water are frozen, and a white frost has formed over the graffiti painted on the ancient bus parked by the roadside.’
      • ‘MRI scanners use magnetic fields which need helium gas to keep them to almost absolutely zero temperatures.’
      • ‘Each day starts at about 5 am in below zero temperatures.’
      • ‘There were several days of temperatures 20-25 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.’
      • ‘The desert terrain is difficult with summer temperatures soaring to 40 degrees Celsius and above, while by mid-October, the temperatures are below zero.’
      • ‘With an average temperature of 60 degrees below zero, any water near the surface of Mars would freeze solid.’
      • ‘They have water that they spray on you in near zero temperatures, that leaves you burning and itching with rashes the next day.’
      • ‘He had died after spending a night outside and being exposed to the 8 degrees below zero temperatures.’
      • ‘A blast of Arctic weather is expected to hit Scotland later today sending temperatures well below zero and causing road chaos.’
      • ‘Anxious villagers claim drivers diced with death when a flood-hit road turned into an ‘ice rink’ as temperatures fell below zero.’
      • ‘The day dawned clear and freezing cold with temperatures well below zero, with the prospect of snow predicted by the Met office.’
      • ‘Since father-of-two Richard started the project at the beginning of the year, he has been working through the rain and temperatures dipping below zero.’
      • ‘Temperatures plunged below zero again last night.’
      • ‘She said that with all the people dancing and singing she didn't feel cold at all, even though she thought the temperature was definitely below zero.’
      • ‘Even radiation will have settled down into the rightly so - called background radiation corresponding to nearly zero temperature.’
      • ‘With temperatures plummeting to below zero over the last week, British Waterways staff are worried children especially are putting themselves at risk by playing on the thin ice.’
      • ‘The audience huddled in sleeping bags and blankets as the temperature sank below zero.’
      • ‘With temperatures below zero and icy roads many people were unable to get into the village for supplies of candles, batteries for torches etc.’
    3. 1.3Linguistics [usually as modifier] The absence of an actual word or morpheme to realize a syntactic or morphological phenomenon:
      ‘the zero plural in ‘three sheep’’
    4. 1.4 The lowest possible amount or level; nothing at all:
      ‘I rated my chances as zero’
      • ‘McClintock's chances had been zero, now they are greater.’
      • ‘Scieh said the zero level of fatalities was ‘encouraging’, although there is no guarantee no one will succumb this year.’
      • ‘You will see how my anxiety level went from zero to a million over the span of an hour.’
      • ‘I think that our economic plan has zero chance of working.’
      • ‘The chances of that happening are pretty slim, but IIB Bank chief economist Austin Hughes believes there is more than a zero chance of the euro being dumped.’
      • ‘She was sick of people feeling sorry for her because her confidence level was zero.’
      • ‘Take some time to explore your behavior and attitudes and honestly assess it on a level of zero to one hundred.’
      • ‘In health, however, health levels would not be zero if there were no health expenditures that is, no health systems.’
      • ‘Of the 12 original Barcelona partners, Cyprus and Malta are inside the EU and Turkey is in the waiting room, but the rest have zero chance of joining.’
      nothing, nil, nothing at all, not a single thing, not anything, none
      rock bottom, the bottom, the lowest point, the all-time low, as low as one can get, low-water mark, the depths, the nadir
      View synonyms
    5. 1.5
      short for zero hour
    6. 1.6informal A worthless or contemptibly undistinguished person:
      ‘her husband is an absolute zero’


  • 1Adjust (an instrument) to zero:

    ‘zero the counter when the tape has rewound’
    • ‘Once it was zeroed the point of impact remained constant.’
    • ‘The third and fourth settings on the digital timer should still have been zeroed, just as when the feeder was set originally.’
    • ‘Pressure transducers were zeroed when each patient was admitted to the study per the manufacturer's instructions.’
    • ‘We zero the equipment, retest the sample, and, if needed, a second sample is tested.’
    return to nought, return to zero, adjust to zero point
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  • 2Set the sights of (a gun) for firing:

    ‘the rifle had been zeroed at an elevation of 200’
    • ‘Thirty yards is a reasonably good range for testing and zeroing a hunting air gun.’
    • ‘I zeroed the .223 at 50 yards which permitted me to check the alignment of the shotgun barrel with the rifle barrel.’
    • ‘With the Ladder flipped down, you have a usable, albeit coarse, fixed battle sight zeroed for 50 meters.’
    • ‘As I zeroed the rifle at 100 yards, I was hoping for groups of less than 3 inches.’
    • ‘It took longer to zero the sight than it did to install the mount.’
    • ‘Proper use of the borelight as detailed in the accompanying chart ensured that all optics and laser aiming devices were effectively zeroed to each weapon.’
    • ‘Once all weapons were neutral zeroed, they were night tested at the small arms range on our forward operating base - my platoon loved the new equipment.’
    • ‘Once barrels have a sight installed and have been zeroed, they can be interchanged.’
    • ‘This at least gave the soldiers the confidence they needed that their weapon was zeroed and they could hit what they were shooting at.’
    • ‘For test firing, zeroing your rifle, or informal competition The Rock Jr. is tailor made for success.’
    • ‘Once the rifle is properly zeroed, the ballistic data for the round used, along with weather data is simply entered into the hand-held computer.’
    • ‘Both units mount and dismount easily, and I had no problems zeroing either optic.’
    • ‘All Wilson pistols are zeroed before shipping.’
    • ‘As I was zeroing the scope, the movement of the bullet strike seemed to be quite accurate.’
    • ‘Once this is accomplished, the Aimpoint sight is zeroed - without firing a shot.’
    • ‘With our test rifle fully fitted out, zeroed and ready for action, we headed for the range.’
    • ‘Frankly, I was most interested in seeing if, once the rifle was zeroed, the shotgun barrel would shoot to the same point-of-aim at shotgun distances.’
    • ‘At the range, I shoot my Sharps from the bench at 100 yards to zero the rifle and get the base line sight settings.’
    • ‘A protected post front sight is adjustable for both windage and elevation when zeroing.’
    • ‘Once the sight is zeroed for your rifle and load, it returns to zero repeatedly.’

Phrasal Verbs

  • zero in

    • 1Take aim with a gun or missile:

      ‘jet fighters zeroed in on the rebels' positions’
      • ‘Whatever may be the movement of the target in the sea, the missile will zero in on it.’
      focus on, focus attention on, centre on, concentrate on, home in on, fix on, pinpoint, give prominence to, highlight, spotlight, underline, emphasize
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      1. 1.1Focus one's attention:
        ‘they zeroed in on the clues he dropped about himself’
        • ‘Having decided to do something extra special, they zeroed in on a Measles Vaccination Programme in India.’
        • ‘Inadvertently, I turn my attention to the dance floor again, my eyes zeroing in on someone in a certain blue dress.’
        • ‘He zeroed in on the critical assumption of full or perfect information.’
        • ‘It zeroed in on these youngsters in each districts, trained them and affiliated them to the Kudumbasree mission.’
        • ‘He's zeroed in on the recent scholarly attention Ben Franklin has been enjoying and yoked that with the equally topical subject of academic plagiarism.’
        • ‘To gain wisdom from life experiences, youngsters ought to receive training on zeroing in on their inherent talents.’
        • ‘He then zeroed in on Monsanto's plans to plant up to 500,000 acres of transgenic soybeans in Venezuela.’
        • ‘The BA zeroed in on the mayor on the potholes that fill the roads.’
        • ‘A senior Kuwaiti diplomat told this corespondent this evening that the negotiations had now zeroed in on money.’
        • ‘When Doris Duke zeroed in on him, he became front-page news.’
        focus on, focus attention on, centre on, concentrate on, home in on, fix on, pinpoint, give prominence to, highlight, spotlight, underline, emphasize
        zoom in on
        View synonyms


Early 17th century: from French zéro or Italian zero, via Old Spanish from Arabic ṣifr cipher.