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None Were vs. None Was

Rule: The word none is versatile. It has a plural sense (“not any”) as well as a singular sense (“not a single one”). When none is followed by of, look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition). If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, there is more leeway. Most of the time, but not always, you will want to use a plural verb.

Examples:
None of the pie was eaten.
None of the children were hungry. BUT None (as in, “not a single one”) of the children was hungry is not incorrect.

In a sentence like “None were missing,” there is an implicit noun that answers the question, “None of what?” If that noun is singular, none takes a singular verb. If that noun is plural, it is up to the writer and the sense of the sentence to determine whether none takes a singular or a plural verb.

Examples:
None was missing. (None of the pie was missing.)
None were missing. (None of the cookies were missing. But there may be times when a writer prefers was, as in Not a single one of the cookies was missing.)

Note: Apparently, the SAT testing service considers none as a singular word only. However, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, “Clearly none has been both singular and plural since Old English and still is. The notion that it is singular only is a myth of unknown origin that appears to have arisen in the 19th century. If in context it seems like a singular to you, use a singular verb; if it seems like a plural, use a plural verb. Both are acceptable beyond serious criticism” (p. 664)

 

Pop Quiz

  1. None of the garbage was/were picked up.
  2. None of the chairs was/were comfortable.
  3. She inspected all of the plates and none was/were chipped.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

  1. None of the garbage was picked up.
  2. None of the chairs were or was comfortable.
  3. She inspected all of the plates and none were or was chipped.

Posted on Sunday, June 14, 2009, at 2:15 pm


79 Comments

79 Responses to “None Were vs. None Was

  1. Cassie Tuttle says:

    Thanks for the refresher course on “none is/none are.”

    I think one reason some people insist that “none” is always singular is the notion that it implies the idea of “not one.”

    I’m sorry to hear that the SAT testing service considers “none” to be only a singular word. More dumbing of the language.

    • Endo says:

      The AP stylebook also demands that journalists use singular verbs with “none”; for the same reasons that Cassie just mentioned. It’s a contraction of “not one.” This is one more reason why writers need to know their audience when writing.

      • Jane says:

        As I mentioned in my response to Dimitri dated September 14, 2011, the AP Stylebook’s entry says, “none It usually means no single one. When used in this sense, it always takes singular verbs and pronouns: None of the seats was in its right place.
        Use a plural verb only if the sense is no two or no amount: None of the consultants agree on the same approach. None of the taxes have been paid.”

  2. Jonathan says:

    Hello, I lean toward the side of thinking of none as a singular and see “none was” as a simple matter of subject-verb agreement. Thinking of none as singular, I say that the prepositional phrase coming after none should have no more of an effect on the conjugation of the verb than a prepositional phrase that follows “one” or “neither.” We can agree that “neither” takes a singular in all cases, can’t we?

    I see so many youth and adults who cannot identify the subjects of their own utterances. I find that the train derails from that point.

    • Millie says:

      I must be old school; none always followed with a plural, but I am always willing to see how grammar rules are constantly evolving. Just a note – I recently looked up the plural for youth and found that it is youths, a plural most people don’t recognize. I just wanted to send a comment to you to highlight that we have to commit to constantly checking grammar rules.

    • Eric says:

      I LOVE how you phrased that:

      *I see so many youth and adults who cannot identify the subjects of their own utterances. I find that the train derails from that point.*

      “Identify the subjects” and “utterances” are dead on, and a “train derailing” is also SO true.
      Even ostensibly professional journalists are screwing everything up nowadays.
      And I agree with Millie, Jonathan: Youths is correct; it is disappointing to see and hear so many people drop the s when it is appropriate.

  3. Jane says:

    The folks who make SAT tests lean the same way as you do. I think of “none” like other “portion” subjects such as “majority,” “remainder,” and “fraction.” These nouns can be either singular or plural, depending on the implied or stated object of the preposition.
    Examples: A fraction of the costs were recovered. A fraction of the cost was recovered. The remainder of the pie was eaten. The remainder of the pies were eaten.

  4. patricia says:

    Thank you, I wish my English course text had been this easy to understand.

  5. Jane says:

    I wish so for your sake, too. However, I’m glad this works for you!

  6. Greta says:

    Which is correct:

    “$50,400 of the fees the Firm earned from you in that period are (or is) attributable to lobbying-related income.”

  7. Jane says:

    The subject of “$50,400 of the fees the Firm earned from you in that period is/are attributable to lobbying-related income” is $50,400. Sums of money are usually thought of as singular so the verb would be “is.”

    • Ray says:

      Wouldn’t it be “$50,400 of the fees the Firm earned from you in that period are attributable to lobbying-related income.” The way I read it the subject is “dollars” even if the word isn’t actually written. Would that not make it plural and therefore “are”?

      • Jane says:

        The Chicago Manual of Style recommends use of a singular verb for dollar amounts. Also, our rule 16 of “Writing Numbers” says, “Write out a number if it begins a sentence.” Since the word “firm” is not a proper noun, do not capitalize.

        Fifty thousand four hundred dollars of the fees the firm earned from you in that period is attributable to lobbying-related income.

  8. Paul E says:

    NONE was derived from NOT ONE which makes it absolutely singular.
    It is incorrect to say, “One of us were there.” It would be, “One of us was there.”
    Logic dictates that the same rules apply when using NONE.
    “None (not one) of us was there.’”
    Think it through and it becomes quite clear.

    Usage may tell you that “None of us were there.’ SOUNDS right, but that it because you are listening to the wrong people. English has ways of compounding incorrect usage when all we HEAR is incorrect usage, even among journalists and others who should know better. Let’s hear it for learning the correct way and using it regardless of what the unlearned say.

    • Jane says:

      This is what Dictionary.com has to say about none:
      Usage note: Since none has the meanings “not one” and “not any,” some insist that it always be treated as a singular and be followed by a singular verb: The rescue party searched for survivors, but none was found. However, none has been used with both singular and plural verbs since the 9th century. When the sense is “not any persons or things” (as in the example above), the plural is more common: … none were found. Only when none is clearly intended to mean “not one” or “not any” is it followed by a singular verb: Of all my articles, none has received more acclaim than my latest one.

    • Erohab says:

      None may be derived from “not one” but the accepted definition is now “not any.” Not one would imply that there could be zero, one thousand or even a negative or fractional number which would make the word almost useless.

      • Jane says:

        We are not sure which authority designates the “accepted definition,” but in 2013, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary still acknowledges several definitions for none, including “not any” and “not one: nobody.”

  9. Paula Koetting says:

    I learned none means “not one” or “nor any”.
    Any is (can be?) plural.
    None of us are going to the dance.

    • Jane says:

      You’re correct that “none” means “not one” or “not any.” When the meaning is “not any,” use a plural verb. Your example: None of us are going to the dance. We mean, “Not any of us are going to the dance.” Thanks for writing.

  10. Jim says:

    “A fraction of the costs were recovered.”
    I think that “Fractions of the costs were recovered.” is a more coherent statement.
    The words “A” and “fraction” both lean toward the singular “was”.

    Knowing that it bothers me, our preacher says, every Sunday without fail, “There are a number of important announcements in the bulletin.”
    I silently utter “There are numbers of important announcements in the bulletin.”, forgive him, though he is strikingly unrepentant, and move on.
    Magnanimous of me, isn’t it?

    • Jane says:

      Changing “fraction” to “fractions” is overkill. “A fraction of the costs were recovered” is already correct. See Rule 9.
      I am adding a rule to address “a number” vs “the number.” This is what it will say:
      The Number vs A Number
      The expression the number is followed by a singular verb while the expression a number is followed by a plural verb.
      Examples:
      The number of people we need to hire is thirteen.
      A number of people have written in about this subject.

      Plus, the following questions will be part of the subscription quizzes:
      1. The number of people lined up for tickets was/were four hundred.
      2. A number of suggestions was/were made.
      3. There is/are a number of important announcements in the bulletin.
      4. Here is/are the number of milk shakes you requested.

      Note that one of the quiz questions is from your email.

      • ToreB says:

        I’m not a linguist and English is not even my first language, but it would seem to me that determining whether a “group” reference deserves singular or plural treatment depends on whether the reference is to a particular grouping or member of the group (singular) or (defined or undefined – all, some, any, not any) members of the group (plural).

        Based on this logic, the rules seem to make sense to me.

  11. Jim says:

    This discussion will not end as long as there are what are called “prescriptivists” and “descriptivists” in the world. One tells how it should be, and one tells how it is.
    There are several areas of discussion at Wordwizards which are worth looks. One is here:
    http://www.wordwizard.com/phpbb3/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=18332&p=44665

    • Jane says:

      You’re right, I am a “descriptivist,” telling it the way I read about it from other experts rather than what I think a rule should state.

  12. Michael says:

    the confusion about the “fraction of costs” sentence stems from its ambiguity.

    “a fraction of the costs WAS recovered” is correct when “the costs” is understood in the collective sense of “costs in aggregate.” it means that, e.g., the sum of the costs was $1000 but only $50 WAS recovered.

    “a fraction of the costs WERE recovered” is correct when the costs are understood as a set of individual costs, rather than a lump sum. it means that, e.g., “costs a and b WERE recovered while costs c through z were not recovered.”

    “a number of” is an idiom meaning “numerous.” that’s why it’s plural despite the singular “a.”

    you shouldn’t be listening to preachers, jim, but in this case he’s right: “There are [numerous] important announcements in the bulletin.” “there are numbers” makes no sense because there is only one number, some particular quantity, of announcements.

  13. Anita says:

    Wow! I expected to spend two minutes finding out if I should write, “None of us were at church,” or “None of us was at church,” but instead, I’ve spent almost fifteen minutes reading and pondering your answer and the comments. :)

    I’m glad I’ve found your web site.

  14. amanat says:

    really helpful…………… :) gr8……..!!

  15. Paul Mountford says:

    I tend to agree with most of what Jane says. However, there is a problem with the ‘fraction’ example which probably stems from the fact that “a fraction of the costs” appears on the face of it to be grammatically incorrect. One would not refer to a fraction of a number of things (“a fraction of the costs” is like saying a fraction of the people, or a fraction of the motor vehicles.). One would use ‘fraction’ in relation to a singular entity. Therefore, it would be more correct to say “a fraction of the cost”. Once this grammatical inconsistency is cleared up you can apply the word ‘none’ in its singular sense: “a fraction of the cost was … etc.”.

    • Jane says:

      Either wording “A fraction of the costs” or “A fraction of the cost” would be grammatically correct. One of the definitions of the word fraction is “portion.” One could certainly say “a portion of the costs,” especially in a case where one would be describing the various costs of a large project, such as a construction project, for example.

  16. Ron says:

    Get out your Grammar books folks – you’re on the wrong track. Look up “Colletivae Nouns”. “None” is a collective noun and is NOT short for “not one”. Collecrive nouns take plural verbs. The verb following a collective noun has nothing to do with what’s “assumed” rto be unspoken or unwritten in the sentence. It’s a simple grammar rule. “None are” is correct.

    • Jane says:

      It appears as if both uses are acceptable. According to the AP Stylebook, “It usually means no single one. When used in this sense, it always takes singular verbs and pronouns: None of the seats was in its right place.
      Use a plural verb only if the sense is no two or no amount: None of the consultants agree on the same approach. None of the taxes have been paid.
      Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary recognizes none as “singular or plural in construction,” and lists one of the definitions as “not one.”

      • ToreB says:

        You say “Use a plural verb only if the sense is no two or no amount: None of the consultants agree on the same approach. None of the taxes have been paid.”

        Does that imply that you would say: “None of the consultants agrees to the approach presented.”

        • Jane says:

          Since the sense of the sentence appears to be consistent with “none of the consultants” = “no two of the consultants,” then the plural verb agree should be used. Also see my original rule which advises: “…look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition) to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, use a plural verb.” Since the object of the preposition is consultants, which is plural, your sentence should be “None of the consultants agree to (or on) the approach presented.”

  17. Ellie says:

    Language changes for various reasons and one is “if enough native speakers make the same mistake then it becomes a rule”. If that were not the case we would all be speaking in Beowolf’s English!

  18. Valerie says:

    May I assume periods of time fall under the same category as sums of money, i.e. thought of as singular. For example “Thirty minutes was spent with the patient” vs “Thirty minutes were spent with the patient.”

    • Jane says:

      Yes, time, distance, and money are sometimes thought of as a unit and take a singular verb. According to AP Stylebook, “Some words that are plural in form become collective nouns and take singular verbs when the group or quantity is regarded as a unit.”
      Right: A thousand bushels is a good yield. (A unit.)
      Right: A thousand bushels were created. (Individual items.)

  19. Prateek says:

    Hello Jane,
    I am from India and I am preparing for GRE Exam.I am a regular visitor of your website.Your post was very helpful to me.Questions involving the use of “none” with “is/are” are considered quite difficult to answer.You resolved all my queries.

    Thank you.Keep up the good work !

  20. Jen says:

    But what about the present tense? You can say “none was” and ” none were” but can you say “none is” as well as “none are”? I don’t think you can say “all is”… Would it be:

    All of the group is participating?

    or

    All of the group are participating?

    • Jane says:

      Yes, you can use the present tense “none is” and “none are.”
      Examples:
      None is gone. (None of the cake is gone.)
      None are home. (None of the children are home.)

      You would say, “All of the group is participating,” since group is a singular noun.

  21. Romy says:

    This is TOTALLY wrong!!!! Whether a verb is singular or plural is determined solely by the subject of that verb. Nothing in a prepositional phrase can affect that. In fact, that’s just about the first thing you learn about subject-verb agreement!

    • Jane says:

      Portion words are tricky. They are not, in and of themselves, singular or plural and thus most persons have a hard time determining whether to use a singular or plural verb. Referencing the object of the preposition provides a helpful hint as to whether to use a singular or plural verb.

  22. Dimitri says:

    ‘None of you are informed’ is as bad as

    ‘Me and her went to the movies’ or

    ‘This is between she and I’

    ‘None’ is singular and the verb should agree with it.

    • Jane says:

      Words like none and some are indefinite pronouns. They are often singular but can also carry a plural sense. The AP Stylebook’s entry says, “none It usually means no single one. When used in this sense, it always takes singular verbs and pronouns: None of the seats was in its right place.
      Use a plural verb only if the sense is no two or no amount: None of the consultants agree on the same approach. None of the taxes have been paid.”

      • Karen says:

        hi, i thought we just agreed that if the object (noun) was plural, it would carry the ‘plural’ rule ie None of the seats are free’, please help.

        • Jane says:

          According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage: “Clearly none has been both singular and plural since Old English and still is. The notion that it is singular only is a myth of unknown origin that appears to have arisen in the 19th century. If in context it seems like a singular to you, use a singular verb; if it seems like a plural, use a plural verb. Both are acceptable beyond serious criticism.” When none is clearly intended to mean not one, it is followed by a singular verb.

  23. sonia g. says:

    OK thanks for the info and debate…Because of this, I just lost my bet….so I guess I am correct in saying, “None of the money I had before coming to this site is left!”

  24. Kathy Reiffenstein says:

    I needed a quick answer to “none was/were” and I stumbled on your blog. Not only did I get the right answer but you gave me the rationale/rule behind it, so now I’ll know how to decide between was/were in the future.

    Thanks! This looks like a great blog which I plan to return to.

    Kathy

  25. Keith Billings says:

    Published writers seem to fail to use the following types of sentenances consistantly. Whish is correct?

    It is undecided whether you were/was there.
    If I were/was you….
    I wish I were/was you….
    Who knows if you were/was there?
    I would like to be where you were/was when you saw it.
    I would have told you but you were/was not there.

    • Jane says:

      These sentences are examples of the subjunctive mood, which refers to the expression of a hypothetical, wishful, imaginary, or factually contradictory thought. The subjunctive mood pairs singular subjects with what we usually think of as plural verbs. The subjunctive is often used in “that” and “if” clauses. Also keep in mind that the pronoun you, whether used in a singular or plural sense, always takes a plural verb.
      It is undecided whether you were there.
      If I were you….
      I wish I were you….
      Who knows if you were there?
      I would like to be where you were when you saw it.
      I would have told you but you were not there.

  26. captain says:

    How is Jane answering from the grave? If this is possible, I have a few questions for The Bard himself. ;-)

    RIP Jane. So long, and thanks for all the grammar!

    • Jane says:

      As we noted in the weekly E-Newsletter of March 8, 2011, as well as on the About Jane tab on the website, Jane’s husband (me) is fulfilling Jane’s wishes by maintaining the activities of the website. In respect for her memory and to continue her legacy, we still use “Jane says” in answering inquiries (similar to “Dear Abby”). I am being assisted by consulting grammar experts. Perhaps Jane is in contact with The Bard!

  27. Rebecca Watts says:

    This subject of “was/were” with “none” came up in an editing session with a client yesterday. I felt that “were” was correct in the situation at hand but I couldn’t quote any rules to justify it. Now I know why–it’s a hotly debated topic. However, I’m perfectly comfortable with Jane’s explanation.

    At the time, I thought the answer must have something to do with the fact that it’s kind of a math thing. “None” means NEITHER “one” nor “many”, it means “zero”. And if you’ll remember your math, you can’t divide by zero. To me, this seemed like a good enough reason to have a different rule re: singular/plural. Even if the zero factor isn’t the crux of it, I think I’ll use that to help me remember it.

    And gee, I just noticed the fact that Jane Straus was lost to us in early 2011. I’ve only just found this website and think it is wonderful. My sincere condolences, “Mr. Jane”, and thank you very much for continuing her/your work via the website.

  28. loyd says:

    I remember the WWII radio bulletins broadcast by the BBC here in the UK that often ended with the words (but not often enough, sadly) – “None of our aircraft is missing”. The grammatical niceties escaped me at the time.

  29. John Roberts says:

    I wish the English professors and the journalistic style guides would come to some agreement. I used the word “Kudos” in a headline and it was singular; however, my boss thought it sounded wrong and forced me to change it to plural. He agreed I was right, but he reminded me that he was the boss and he was right-er. So we did it his way. (No use arguing with the boss.)

    I’ve used “none” as singular for too long and it’s awkward. But as long as the AP Style Guide and other guides want to stick to it, it’s difficult to fight. Some television journalists use it religiously as singular, and no one flinches. So what to do?

    • Jane says:

      It’s interesting that your boss agreed you were right, but still exerted the “ego rule.” The AP Stylebook does not require that “none” be singular, but allows for both singular and plural uses.

  30. Jim Rankin says:

    I have been learning English since Grade 1 — 76 years ago. In the seventies, I was awakened to changes that quietly sneaked into our communications. Now, I have woken to those things that snuck in the back door while I slept.
    OMG!

  31. Mary says:

    Which word takes precedence when determining verb agreement when you have both a “portion” word and a dollar amount? Does the adverb “approximately” modify $50 to make it indicate a portion?

    “Approximately $50 of home costs was/were incurred.”

    • Jane says:

      Our Rule 13 of Subject and Verb Agreement says, “Use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.” Therefore, write “Approximately $50 of home costs was incurred.”

  32. Eric says:

    Thank you, Jane!

    I was stuck, but you got me out of the mire.

  33. Meghann B. says:

    I am enjoying the Blue Book very much, but I do have a question.

    On page four, under Rule 9 of the Subject and Verb Agreement lesson, you give several examples:

    1. All of the pie is gone.

    2. Some of the pie is missing.

    3. None of the garbage was picked up.

    I was wondering if you could clarify why in the first one, only ‘is’ is identified as the main verb, while in the second and third examples, ‘is’ AND ‘missing’ and ‘was’ AND ‘picked’ respectively, are underlined twice?

    As I am understanding it, in examples 2 and 3, ‘is’ and ‘was’ are auxillary verbs, and ‘missing’ and ‘picked’ are the main verbs. If this is correct (and it is quite possible I am wrong), then in example one, would you be able to explain why ‘gone’ is not the main verb?

    Thank you for your time, it’s greatly appreciated.

    • Jane says:

      In the first sentence, “gone,” despite being the past participle of the verb to go, functions as an adjective describing “All of the pie.” Is going or has gone are verb forms of to go, but this is not the case with “is gone.”
      In the second sentence, “missing” is an adjective. It was wrongly labeled a verb in the tenth edition, but this mistake has been corrected in the new edition due out in February 2014.
      You are correct that “was” is an auxiliary verb in the third sentence. (Some grammarians would say the main verb is “picked up,” not “picked.”)

  34. Scott says:

    If none means “not one” and one is singular then logic dictates that none is not singular.
    Zero people “are”
    One person “is”
    We treat zero as a plural throughout English, no native speaker would choose to say “zero person”

    • Jane says:

      As far as we know, the SAT testing service has not changed its position on the word none being singular. However, thanks for sharing your logical argument.

  35. A says:

    Does one say

    1) None of the ideas are sound.
    2) None of the ideas is sound.

    Thank you,

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