None – Singular or Plural

The Question

Which is correct?

  1. None of us does
  2. None of us do

The Answer

In replying to this question, I can do no better than to quote from the excellent book by Martha Kolln, Rhetorical Grammar:

One special problem occurs with the word none, which has its origin in the phrase not one. Because of that original meaning, many writers insist that none always be singular, as not one clearly is. However, a more accurate way to assess its meaning is to recognize none as the negative, or opposite, of all and to treat it in the same way, with its number determined by the number of the modifier.

Kolln provides a few examples to demonstrate the logic of her claim:

Examples

  • All of the cake was left.
  • None of the cake was left.

  • All of the cookies were left.
  • None of the cookies were left.

So, in the questioner’s example sentence, it appears that the correct version would be the second: “None of us do…”

What do my fellow English geeks out there think?

This entry was posted in grammar. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Or, follow comments via email (without commenting yourself) here:

14 Responses to None – Singular or Plural

  1. fred says:

    12SEP05_____
    This exact question arose today – is “none” singular or plural. Back in the 50′s and early 60′s, teachers taught me it is singular. From my experiences, preferred treatment of “none” was in the singular at that time. Opinions I read on the web today leave me with the impression it is now optional, and that the plural may now be preferred._____
    I do however disagree with Martha Kolin’s logic. If she is going to treat “none” as plural because it is the negative or opposite of “all”, then she needs to do the same thing for “not one”. She can’t easily do that though, because “not one” is obviously singular. This leads me to the conclusion that this relationship with “all” is invalid._____
    I do have a theory on this – no proof, but a theory. I believe that changes in application of gender may be responsible for the shift. Prior to the mid 60′s, it would have been proper to say, “none did his homework” with reference to a mixed gender class. The “his” was understood to include male and female gender. Later I heard statements similar to, “none did his or her homework”. Now I commonly hear statements similar to, “none did their homework”. There is no genderless possessive personal pronoun as far as I know, but there is the plural word “their”. Consequenly, re-application of “none” as plural provides compatibility with “their” and restores harmony._____
    And that gentlemen is why I prefer mathematics to English.

  2. Jack says:

    Is it
    Five hundred or five hundreds
    Is it
    Five thousand, twenty-six or five thousands, twenty-six
    Is it
    five tens or five ten

  3. Ben says:

    In situations where we shorten the name of organizations (example – SBA for Small Business Administration), is it proper in writing or in speech to use “an”?

  4. Karl says:

    Jack, it is “five hundred” and “five thousand.” I’m not sure about the third example, because there isn’t enough context. For example, if you are referring to five ten-dollar bills, you would write something like, “I have five tens in my pocket.”

  5. Karl says:

    Ben, it is proper to use “an” when an abbreviated name begins with a vowel sound. Please see my other entry for more information: A versus An: The Indefinite Article.

  6. Monica says:

    When using “whether” in legal writing (or simple english) to begin a sentence, the sentence punctuation should be a question mark or period? for example: “Whether defendant’s acceptance of the plea agreement and entry of a guilty plea were rendered involuntary.”
    Thank you!

  7. Elsa Maria says:

    What is the difference between “didn’t get” and “haven’t got to”? I know they are different because of the tense, but is there any other difference or special case in which we use them?

  8. Karl says:

    Monica, it’s hard to tell what punctuation should come at the end because you’ve only given me the dependent clause. I would need to see the main clause, too, to know whether a period or question mark would be more appropriate. For example, we could have this: “Whether defendant’s acceptance of the plea agreement and entry of a guilty plea were rendered involuntarily, will the judge sentence him to a prison term?” Or, we could have this: “Whether defendant’s acceptance of the plea agreement and entry of a guilty plea were rendered involuntarily, the judge will not declare a mistrial.
    Elsa Maria, could you please give me a couple example sentences?

  9. Rena Wallace says:

    Here’s a question — my sister asked if there is a comparable word to “emasculate” to describe the weakening of a woman? There must be a word, but …defeminize doesn’t quite do it though. Any suggestions? Rena W.

  10. Carpe DM says:

    My question concerning the issue of none’s singularity is more basic than a lot of the questions here. How can none be anything but singular? The PREPOSITIONAL phrase “of the cookies” in the sentence, “None of the cookies (was/were) left,” cannot be the subject because a subject is NEVER in a prepositional phrase. Therefore, how can none be anything but singular? It is from not one from the Old English word “nan” (a contraction of “ne an” meaning not one). When can it be used as a singular?

  11. Pam Molinaro says:

    Can anyone tell me what is the correct use for the plural of Power of Attorney? Is it Powers of Attorney or Power of Attorneys?

  12. Ken Chu says:

    I think Martha Kolln got it right, but for the wrong reason. The rule I’ve seen for deciding when to treat “none” as plural or singular is: follow its antecedent.
    Your examples follow that rule. However, even that rule isn’t easy to follow at times:
    None of the fish in this lake (is/are) from this area.
    I think that one should be “are” because the word “fish” is plural in the sentence.

  13. Jonni says:

    Carpe DM, don’t you think that even though the subject of the sentence is never in the prepositional phrase, the phrase does tell the reader what we have none of? Hence, wouldn’t it be “None of the money is missing” / “None of the coins are missing”? This is what we do with the word some, for we say “Some of the money is missing” and “Some of the coins are missing.”

  14. Clara says:

    I, too, was taught in school (90s) that none is ALWAYS to be treated as singular.
    The prepositional phrase should be ignored. If the rule were to choose singular vs. plural based on the phrase, then it would be correct to say “one of the books are ruined.” I think we can all agree that is not correct.
    I think the point of choosing to say none is to stress that “not even one”…so therefore it makes sense to say “none of the books is ruined.” None might be the opposite of all BUT does not refer to “not all” because that could mean something like 1 out of 10 or 9 out of 10 was/were ruined.
    To say “none are” may sound okay, but this is a case of a mistake being commonly used and accepted…which you could argue is how rules change over time, but I am for sticking to the old rule.
    You are free to disagree if you wish…..