Is none singular or plural? We’ve consulted several grammarians on the subject and want to help you alleviate this grammar conundrum right now.
If you’ve stumbled upon this guide to the confusing little four-letter word “none”, welcome! None means basically “nothing”, and causes a lot of confusion for students, professional writers, and even some grammar teachers.
You’ve never really lived until you’ve tried to explain to a non-native English language speaker how to use it correctly without the need for a headache remedy afterward.
So, is none singular? Is none plural? Could it go either way? To be honest, correct English usage for “none” depends on the context, and it’s a total misconception that it must always be one or the other.
Let’s look at how none could be either singular or plural in the subject-verb agreement scheme of things.
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- What Part does None Play in English Grammar
- None as an Indefinite Pronoun
- What Comes After the Preposition?
- Does None Take Singular or Plural Verbs: A Handy Rule
- Using “None” with Mass Nouns and Uncountable Nouns
- None as an Adverb
- The Final Word on “Is None Singular or Plural?”
- FAQs on Is None Singular or Plural
What Part does None Play in English Grammar
In order to answer the question: “Does none take a singular verb or a plural verb?” we need to first understand all the roles “none” can play in the English language. According to “The American Heritage Dictionary”, None originally comes from the Old English nan, meaning “not any”.
So, if none means nothing, how do you decide if it’s a singular noun or if plurality is a possibility here? A usage note from the dictionary source tells us that none has been used in both plural and singular pronoun forms since the ninth century.
Let’s take a look at Merriam-Webster’s list of roles that none can play in English grammar:
None as an Indefinite Pronoun
Indefinite pronouns are those fabulously vague pronouns we can use when we aren’t referring to any particular thing, person or amount. They’re not “definite” like the pronouns I, you, he, she, it, we, or they, which all refer back to specific people or things.
Some other examples of indefinite pronouns include any, anyone, anything, anybody, all, another, everybody, everyone, each, everything, few, many, one, some, several, nobody, and, our good friend, none.
There are three ways to look at “none” as an indefinite pronoun.
- None can play the role of “no one,” “not one,” or “nobody”: “None want to try the smelly stew.”
- None as “not any”: “None of the children are from New York.”
- None as “no part”: “That is none of your beeswax.”
What Comes After the Preposition?
As you can see from the examples above, we have both a plural and a singular usage, and both are correct within the context of each sentence.
In the first example: “None want to try the smelly stew,” the reader is required to infer what “none” means. Since the verb is “want” (plural) instead of “wants” (singular), we automatically imagine a group of people snubbing their noses at a pot of putrid stew.
In the second example, the connotation is clearer. We have a group of children (plural noun). In this case, we would then use the plural verb “are” to indicate that, “None of the children are from New York.” We take the verb cue from the object of the prepositional phrase: children.
In the third example, we have “That” occupying the subject place in the sentence. “That” is a demonstrative pronoun that indicates a singular subject. (On the flip side, “Those” would be a demonstrative pronoun indicating a plural subject.) Since “that” is singular, we need to use “is” with none.
Does None Take Singular or Plural Verbs: A Handy Rule
So what is the clear rule for “none” as a pronoun? As the online Grammar Book indicates: Focus on the subject of the sentence, which is usually (but not always) the noun after the preposition “of” in your sentence.
If the noun is singular, use a singular verb. If the noun following “of” is plural, take the plural verb. Let’s look at another two examples, just to bring the concept home:
- “None of the puzzle pieces were missing.” Notice that “puzzle pieces” is a plural noun following “of”, so we use “were” (plural) to achieve the correct usage.
- “None of the cake was eaten.” Here, we have one cake after “of”—so we use the singular verb “was”.
Using “None” with Mass Nouns and Uncountable Nouns
Of course, complications arise with what “none” means when we use mass nouns or uncountable nouns. So let’s define these ideas as clearly as possible, then work “none” into the equation:
These are nouns that can’t really be quantified or counted because they are usually abstract. Some examples include music, fun, knowledge, happiness, work, advice, love, etc. None of these things can be counted, so they are also considered uncountable nouns. These nouns take the singular verb form.
Let’s look at how they work with “none”:
- “None of the music was to her liking.”
- “None of my knowledge is useful for this game show.”
In both cases, these abstract, mass nouns take the singular verb because they’re uncountable.
Like the name says, these are nouns that nobody really wants to count, like dirt, sugar, grass, hay, juice, bread, information, rice, and hair. These also take the singular verb. If you can measure any of these things and put them into containers like “loaves of bread” or “bales of hay” or “cups of sugar”, then you can count the containers and use the plural verb.
Here are some examples in which the uncountable noun after the preposition “of” tells us we need a singular noun:
- None of the bread was fully baked.
- None of the juice contains added sugar
If we put those uncountable nouns into containers of some kind, we can count the containers, which means we can use plural nouns:
- None of the 15 bales of hay were collected.
- None of the 2 cups of sugar were added to the mix.
None as an Adverb
None can also be used as an adverb that means “by no means” or “not at all”. We use adverbs to describe or modify verbs, adjectives or even more adverbs. Here’s a couple of examples:
- The dog came none too quickly when I called. (Here, “none too” modifies the adverb “quickly”, which modifies the verb “came” to tell us how the dog performed the action: none too quickly.)
- The sweater looked none the worse for having been stained. (Again, “none the worse” modifies how the sweater looked (verb), so it is not being used as a pronoun, but as an adverb.)
Using none in an adverbial phrase is somewhat less common than using it as a pronoun, so you’ll need to ask yourself which usage is being applied: is none acting as a pronoun, or an adverb?
The Final Word on “Is None Singular or Plural?”
So, how can you tell when none is singular or plural? When in doubt about your English usage of “none” in a sentence, first ask yourself if none is a pronoun or an adverb in the sentence.
Once you establish that it’s being used as a pronoun, look for the subject of the sentence (the actor), or the noun that comes after the “of” prepositional phrase following “none”. Is that noun singular, plural, uncountable or countable? Then use the verb form indicated by that noun, whether it’s one cake, 12 monkeys, or sand.
One final piece of advice is to invest in an easy-to-understand and fun-to-read grammar resource such as Patricia T. O’Conner’s “Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English.” This book isn’t like your high school grammar book that put you to sleep, drooling over your essay.
It’s actually a fun read and simplifies grammar concepts, so you can put them to work right away. It will ensure that none of your hair is pulled out at the end of your writing project.
FAQs on Is None Singular or Plural
Does “None” Take A Singular Or Plural Verb?
If the noun that comes after “of the…” is singular or uncountable, use a singular verb. If the noun that follows “of the” is plural, use the plural verb.
When you say “to me, none means ‘not one’”, are you saying you think the two have the same grammar?
Essentially, yes. The “Old English n an” literally means “not one” or “not any”. You can use them both the same way: “None of the children were in school.” = “Not any of the children were in school.”
Which is correct None of them is or none of them are?
This depends on the noun that “none” refers to. If the noun is singular (one pie), use the singular verb: “None of the pie is left.” If the noun is plural, use the plural verb: “None of the rocks are painted.”
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