Grammar Is None Plural or Singular? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Is None Plural or Singular?

If you have friends and family members with an interest in grammar, asking whether the word none is singular or plural is a good way to start a spirited discussion (and if you have this kind of social circle, we would enjoy knowing how the discussion concluded, but we digress).

For many, the presumed wisdom is that none is a singular word that stems from “not one.” Following that logic, other parts of a sentence associated with it should likewise be singular.

That would then mean that the surrounding verbs and adjectives would need to follow suit as well. Consider the following sentence: My roommate said he ordered a pizza for us, but when I got home none of it was left. In this common type of wording, none refers to the singular pizza, making the grammar easy and clear.

This returns us to the presumed wisdom. The reason it matters whether none is singular or plural is we would want to know whether it’s correct to say “none is” or “none are.” The answer isn’t always as simple as the rule of thumb so many teachers and editors might quote. None doesn’t always have to be singular.

When None Can Be Plural

While none is often a singular word, it doesn’t always have to be. Things change when the subject the word applies to—the thing there is none of—is plural.

To see how this would work grammatically, consider two different sentences.

  1. I have a presentation coming up, but none of my shirts is clean.

In this case, we use the singular “is” because none translates into “not one.”

Now consider another example:

  1. None of my friends are going to watch the game tonight.

In this case, none conveys “not any” of a plural group of “friends.” Here, the object of the preposition (friends) informs the number of both the collective noun (none) and the verb. We therefore use the plural verb are.

These sentences show how none doesn’t always have to be singular. To distinguish singular and plural, determine if the sentence subject has one part or multiple parts. A common guide can be found in the object of a prepositional phrase that modifies the subject (e.g., none of my homework, none of my shirts, none of her pets).

If the number of parts for none is not clear or specified and you are unsure what number to assume, you can safely default to a singular subject and verb: None at the meeting was convinced the proposal would pass.

When it comes to the grammatical basis of using none (or any other word, for that matter), be mindful of rules that don’t sound accurate based on how sentences are commonly written or spoken. And if someone tries to stop you from using grammar correctly, let them know you’ll have none of it.


Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, choose the correct verb in each sentence.

  1. None of my pencils [is / are] sharpened.
  2. They gave Jules the slice of cake, but as of last night, none of it [was / were] eaten.
  3. Can you explain why none of these nickels [is / are] real?
  4. Barry said none of the news reports [is / are] influencing his decision.
  5. None in the audience [is / are] going to root for last year’s champion.


Pop Quiz Answers

  1. None of my pencils is sharpened.
  2. They gave Jules the slice of cake, but as of last night, none of it was eaten.
  3. Can you explain why none of these nickels are real?
  4. Barry said none of the news reports are influencing his decision.
  5. None in the audience is going to root for last year’s champion.

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10 responses to “Is None Plural or Singular?”

  1. JC says:

    This one is hard for me. I can see it clearly in some examples but not in others. The assigning of “plural group,” and therefore using are/were, sometimes seems arbitrary. In the examples given, why are shirts and nickels not considered plural groups but friends is? All three are plural; all are groups of more than one. It seems just as suitable to say “Not one of my shirts is clean” as to say “Not any of my shirts are clean.”

    • says:

      Nickels and shirts are inanimate objects. They cannot act as individuals the way friends can.

  2. Jonathan Pitts Crick says:

    I don’t think this is right. None is an abbreviation of “not one” and so, to test the correctness of the form of the following verb you should try simply replacing “none” with “not one” and see what it sounds like then. The problem is that the plural noun just before the singular form of the verb is unsettling so the test should leave this out. Also “one” is by definition single so this could be included in the sentence for clarity – e.g. “Can you explain why not a single one of these is real?” makes it clear that the singular verb IS correct.

    • says:

      Words like none 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.

  3. LR Yuan says:

    Darn, I still don’t get it…
    What is the difference between “not any” and “not one”?

    • says:

      The difference between “not any” and “not one” is a subtlety of American English. Compare the following sentences:

      Not any of those paint colors are right for the bathroom.
      Not one of those paint colors is right for the bathroom.

      In both sentences, the overall concept is that “none” of the paint colors will be suitable. The subtlety lies in how we perceive the number of units involved, which in these constructions is often influenced by the modifying prepositional phrase; here it is “of those paint colors,” which indicates plurality.

      With “not one,” our emphasis is on a single unit. With “not any,” we are widening our concept of the number by suggesting “not any of them all,” which produces an image of plurality.

      Such subtleties are also often influenced by how they are commonly spoken and how they sound to the ear. “Not one is…” and “Not any are…” will often sound natural to the American ear.

  4. Mike Snow says:

    Your examples make pencils singular but nickels plural. That is inconsistent. I believe they should both be plural.

    • says:

      In Question 1 we use the singular “is” because none translates into “not one.”
      Not one pencil is sharpened.
      In Question 3 none conveys “not any” nickels.
      …none of these nickels are real?

  5. Andrea Bilger says:

    Not any of those paint colors are right for the bathroom.
    Not one of those paint colors is right for the bathroom.

    You’re rationalizing incorrect grammar in the first sentence. In each case, not a single color is right. Using the plural is incorrect, but it’s used so often that it sounds right to many (like “it’s,” for the possessive of it, looks right to many).

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