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A Word, Please: None is, or none are? Both work

April 28, 2012|By June Casagrande

I'm always careful with the word “none.” Whenever it’s the subject of a clause, I take special care with the verb.

The choice between “none is” and “none are,” for example, can raise a lot of eyebrows. Compare “Of all my friends, none are as kind as you” with “Of all my friends, none is as kind as you.” Many people will tell you that “none are” is wrong, for reasons we’ll get to in a moment, and that, therefore, “none is” is the only correct choice.

That’s actually not the case, but the idea still influences my decision. A grammar error need not be real to distract from what you’re trying to say. A perceived error can muddle your message just as effectively. So I usually opt for “none is” over “none are” because it’s the safer choice.

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Or so I thought. It turns out there’s another view I’d never heard until I got this email from David in Orange County about a recent column.

“You may have a grammatical error in today's column,” he wrote. “In your second-to-the-last paragraph you write ‘... none of your words IS carefully chosen.’ I believe that none is an indefinite pronoun which can be singular or plural and should agree with the noun or pronoun to which it refers. In this sentence ‘none’ refers to ‘words,’ which is plural. The sentence should read “... none of your words ARE carefully chosen.’ Am I missing something here?”

That was a new one on me, and startling in its logic. Yes, pronouns should agree in number with their antecedents — the words to which they refer. But it doesn’t quite apply in this situation.

First, some background. The people who say “none” can never go with a plural verb like “are” argue that this is because the word “none” is necessarily singular. It means “not one,” after all, they insist. Thus, any verb that goes with it should be singular: none is instead of none are, none goes instead of none go, none reads instead of none read, and so on.

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