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Is "None" Singular or Plural?

Categories: Grammar.

Q: The word “none” should always be singular, right?
—Anonymous

A: This is a major misconception. “None” can be a singular pronoun if it’s referring to “not one” or “no part,” but it also can be plural when referring to “not any.” None of the apple was eaten. Apple is a singular item, so you’d use the singular verb “was.” None of the ballplayers were on the team bus after the game. Here, “none” refers to “not any of the ballplayers” just as much as it refers to “not one of the ballplayers,” so it can be plural. Pluralizing it not only makes it a clearer sentence, but also makes it less awkward to read.


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3 Responses to Is "None" Singular or Plural?

  1. christine webb-curtis says:

    In response to Lisa von Lempke, I’m with you on that teeth-grating series (and more) of misused words. Especially the “lie, lay, lain/lay, laid, laid” confusion, which is absolutely the most common (especially by dog owners), followed closely by the confusion between “I/me, he/him, she/her, we/them.” Those rankle me most when spoken by a television reporter, a public speaker, a clergyman, or anyone else who is supposed to set an example to us all.

    In response to both Brian Klems and David Bowman, thanks for expressing the “none” rules so articulately. That was crystal clear.

  2. David Bowman says:

    I used to say that "none" always requires a singular verb. Now, however, I’m willing to say "none" can be singular or plural, depending on how it is used.

    Here’s my "new" take on this, from the post "None of These" Is Plural. I made the switch because 1) this argument makes sense and 2) “none” has been used this way for centuries.

    On some issues, such as “which” vs. “that,” I am a prescriptive grammarian. Regardless of how people (mis)use these words, I stick to the rule. The difference between “that” and “which” is an issue of understanding. These two words communicate different meanings.

    On this issue, however, I believe I can safely follow usage patterns and not the “rules.” It doesn’t affect the meaning, which is my most important concern. With this in mind, here’s my advice.

    1. Find the word/words to which “none” refers, i.e., the referent.
    2. Determine if the referent is singular or plural.
    3. Use a singular or plural verb depending on the referent.

    Thus, we can say "None of this soup tastes good" and "None of these apples are rotten."

  3. I think it comes from people thinking ‘none’ is a contraction of ‘not one’.

    As a non-native speaker of English, I’m curious to know how most English speakers feel, these days, about a number of things I keep coming up against, and that abhor me (I am easily abhorred.) What, Brian, do you think of:

    - She told he and I to sit down
    - e.coli is a bacteria
    - they shared a name in common (or even: they shared the same name in common)
    - he was lead into the basement
    - the key lied on the mantelpiece

    ohh…I forget heaps of other ones. They will come back to me.

    So, do these things send a chill down your back, too?

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