Writing for Business

Jul 19 2010   1:10PM GMT

Is “none” plural or singular? Yes.

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
I found digital drugs for “razor-sharp mind,” “power siesta” and “chakra balancing” but none of them ____ to work for me.
a. seem
b. seems

Answer: b, for AP style.

Although the old rule is that “none” stands for “not one” and, thus, is singular, that seems to be changing. AP still maintains that:

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.

This rule is changing, I think. To my ear, “None of them seem to work” sounds much better. Others maintain that you can pretty much do as you please with this one. Here’s an excerpt from Gabe Doyle’s post on Motivated Grammar about the none issue as a (mostly) non-issue:

In fact, pretty much everyone agrees on three basic facts:

* when none quantifies a singular or mass noun, only singular agreement is acceptable
* when none quantifies a plural noun, both singular and plural agreements are acceptable.
* when none doesn’t quantify anything, both agreements are acceptable.

However, Doyle does admit that his example of a correct use (None of the people who run it is getting any sleep.) is like a fingernail on a chalkboard to him. To me, too. None of the people is getting any sleep? Please.

Although I like the Motivated Grammar blog’s slogan (Prescriptivism must die!), in this case I prefer the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation’s less anarchic take. There’s a time and a place for a rule — and I like this one:

Rule: With words that indicate portions—some, all, none, percent, fraction, part, majority, remainder, and so forth —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.

None of the pie was eaten.
None of the children were hungry.

Does “None of the children was hungry” sound right to you? To me, it sounds as if you should make that “None of the chilluns was hongry.”

I think I may have to go try another digital drug to see if it can calm me down.

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