If you have friends and family members with an interest in grammar, asking whether the word none is singular or plural is a good way to start a spirited discussion (and if you have this kind of social circle, we would enjoy knowing how the discussion concluded, but we digress).
For many, the presumed wisdom is that none is a singular word that stems from “not one.” Following that logic, other parts of a sentence associated with it should likewise be singular.
That would then mean that the surrounding verbs and adjectives would need to follow suit as well. Consider the following sentence: My roommate said he ordered a pizza for us, but when I got home none of it was left. In this common type of wording, none refers to the singular pizza, making the grammar easy and clear.
This returns us to the presumed wisdom. The reason it matters whether none is singular or plural is we would want to know whether it’s correct to say “none is” or “none are.” The answer isn’t always as simple as the rule of thumb so many teachers and editors might quote. None doesn’t always have to be singular.
When None Can Be Plural
While none is often a singular word, it doesn’t always have to be. Things change when the subject the word applies to—the thing there is none of—is plural.
To see how this would work grammatically, consider two different sentences.
- I have a presentation coming up, but none of my shirts is clean.
In this case, we use the singular “is” because none translates into “not one.”
Now consider another example:
- None of my friends are going to watch the game tonight.
In this case, none conveys “not any” of a plural group of “friends.” Here, the object of the preposition (friends) informs the number of both the collective noun (none) and the verb. We therefore use the plural verb are.
These sentences show how none doesn’t always have to be singular. To distinguish singular and plural, determine if the sentence subject has one part or multiple parts. A common guide can be found in the object of a prepositional phrase that modifies the subject (e.g., none of my homework, none of my shirts, none of her pets).
If the number of parts for none is not clear or specified and you are unsure what number to assume, you can safely default to a singular subject and verb: None at the meeting was convinced the proposal would pass.
When it comes to the grammatical basis of using none (or any other word, for that matter), be mindful of rules that don’t sound accurate based on how sentences are commonly written or spoken. And if someone tries to stop you from using grammar correctly, let them know you’ll have none of it.
Using what you’ve learned in this article, choose the correct verb in each sentence.
- None of my pencils [is / are] sharpened.
- They gave Jules the slice of cake, but as of last night, none of it [was / were] eaten.
- Can you explain why none of these nickels [is / are] real?
- Barry said none of the news reports [is / are] influencing his decision.
- None in the audience [is / are] going to root for last year’s champion.
Pop Quiz Answers
- None of my pencils is sharpened.
- They gave Jules the slice of cake, but as of last night, none of it was eaten.
- Can you explain why none of these nickels are real?
- Barry said none of the news reports are influencing his decision.
- None in the audience is going to root for last year’s champion.
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