QUESTION: Should I say none is correct or none are correct?
ANSWER: A good number of sources confirm the use of a singular verb after the indefinite pronoun none. However, as I began to search for follow-up exercises on subject-verb agreement for one of my students, I became aware that we English language teachers and materials writers are not united when it comes to explaining the grammar of none. I understood that to help my student, I would have to choose a camp. Camp 1: Those who believe none is always followed by a singular verb. Camp 2: Those who believe none can be used with either a singular or plural verb.
In the end, I decided to set up my own offshoot of Camp 2, and I hope others will join me.
Point 1: In most cases none is followed by a singular verb. No grammar source I’ve found states that it’s incorrect to use a singular verb after none, so when it doubt, choose the singular verb over the plural.
a. Different students offered possible solutions to the math problem, but none was correct.
b. The detective grew frustrated as he listened to the conflicting accounts from witnesses. None of this is making any sense, he thought.
Point 2: Use of none with a plural verb may be considered completely incorrect by some, but others at least acknowledge that it’s a common practice in informal English. Betty Azar writes: “Subjects with none of are considered singular in very formal English, but plural verbs are often used in informal speech writing” (Azar 89). I would argue that the trend is moving toward acceptance of the plural verb in both oral and written use. I’ve found evidence in formal writing:
a. “26 residential students at the college had to be moved from their accommodation nearby, but none were injured.” [From “Firemen injured fighting Belfast blaze.” RTE News. Dublin: Nov. 14, 2009.]
b. “None of the wheelchair users injured in incidents associated with improper or no securement were associated with passenger cars, as might be expected.” [From “Wheelchair Users Injuries and Deaths Associated with Motor Vehicle Incidents.” U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA Safety Note: September 1997.]
Point 3: Plural pronouns and possessive adjectives seem most appropriate in reference to the subject none when the full subject is none of + plural object, or at least the of + plural object is implied.
a. I was angry. None of my housemates were able to pay their share of the rent last month.
[Let’s say that I have three housemates of mixed genders. Wouldn’t it be laborious to say that none was able to pay his or her share of the rent? And none was able to pay their share lacks agreement between verb and possessive adjective.]
b. The workers were uneasy and confused. They looked at one another for answers. None (of them) knew why they had been summoned for an emergency staff meeting.
Point 4: I’m not sure there’s a meaning difference that results from choosing the plural over the singular after the indefinite pronoun none. However, some sources argue there is.
I appreciated the short summaries posted by Armstrong Atlantic State University’s writing center regarding subject-verb agreement, yet I ran into trouble over this segment on the use of none:
- It also takes a singular verb when used to mean “not one,” even if the object of the following prepositional phrase is plural. However, none may take a plural verb when it is used to mean “not any” and the object of the following prepositional phrase is plural. Thus, when you use none in such constructions you must be sure of your meaning.
- None of the players _______ (was, were) able to pass the physical fitness test.
Is there really a difference in meaning between saying not one of the players and not any of the players? I think either was or were could fit in the closed statement above: None of the players was able to pass…/ None of the players were able to pass… . Furthermore, go back to Point 2, Example A above. Is there a difference in meaning between not one of the students was injured and not any of the students were injured? The only one I can think of is the emphasis on the idea not a single one. = None of the students was injured.
How would you complete these sentences?
- Did you find any candidates strong enough for the job? – No, there [is/ are] none.
- The real estate agent took me to view several properties, but none [was/ were] to my liking.
- The teachers asked for volunteers among the parents, but so far none [has/ have] signed up to serve as chaperones on the field trip.
- My colleague suggested three different days we could meet for lunch, but honestly none of the dates [work/ works] for me. This week is a busy one.
 Azar, Betty Schrampfer. Understanding and Using English Grammar. Third edition. Longman, 1999.