CS Sealey

Sydney-based sub-editor, writer and author

None

Is none a singular or plural word?

none (pronoun)—not any, not one singular thing; not one person, no one

‘I can trust none of you.’

By the time the decanter reached my end of the table, none of the wine was left.

None could match the warrior for strength or speed on the battlefield.

While many believe that none can only be followed by a singular verb (such as was or is), there is actually no historical proof for this theory. As far as texts go, the word none has been used as both singular and plural ever since it evolved from its Old English roots.

None of my closest friends are left-handed.

None of my closest friends is left-handed.

AND

Of all the cats in the pet shop, none are ginger.

Of all the cats in the pet shop, none is ginger.

The plural sentences of both above examples may just feel right to you. However, the singular sentences are equally correct. If you replace none with not one (its primary definition), the is no longer seems so clunky. Grammatically, there is no right or wrong here.

Interestingly, and contrary to popular belief, none is actually treated as plural quite often, hence why the above plural sentences may feel right.

Other examples of blurry preferences:

Of all the employees in the office, none are blonde.

Of all the employees in the office, none is blonde.

AND

‘I have three types of tea but none are peppermint, sorry.’

‘I have three types of tea but none is peppermint, sorry.’

AND

‘None of the books you have there are going to help you.’

‘None of the books you have there is going to help you.

But which is right? Decide for yourself.

However, there are instances when there is a definite answer. (Yay!) When none is followed by a mass noun, to be grammatically correct, you must use a singular verb. Mass nouns—sometimes referred to as uncountable nouns—are words such as furniture, air, music, fruit and the more abstract honour or evidence.

None of the furniture was delivered on time.

By the time I arrived, none of the fruit was left.

None of the evidence is going to stick.

Apart from mass nouns, though, there are no rules saying that you must use a singular verb when using none. Determining whether you think you should use singular or plural in any given situation mostly depends upon what sounds more natural.

While my usual advice is to keep your style uniform, in this case, I can’t really advise that. Due to context and matters of emphasis, some instances may require a singular verb with none rather than a plural or vice versa.

Happy writing!

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