Is “None” Singular or Plural?

My Catholic grammer school nuns insisted that “none” is singular. Therefore the phrase “None of the choices are correct.” is wrong, and earned a student a rap on the knuckles back in the day. None of the choices is correct. And hey, who was I to argue with Sister Rita-Jean? But doesn’t this sound funny? “None of the people is here.”

An interesting discussion of the myth of the singularity of the word “none” is found on a law blog, of all places.

My favorite, the Merriam Webster Dictionary of English, for instance, reports that, “Clearly, ‘none’ has been both singular and plural since Old English and still is. The notion that it is singular only is a myth of unknown origin that appears to have arisen late in the 19th century.” It buttresses its assertions with quotes from many sources, including the King James Version of the Bible, W.H. Auden, and G.K. Chesterton. Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, and the Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage take the same view. So even if one takes the view that correct usage is decided by The Authorities rather than by common usage, here the prominent authorities seem to take the view that “none” can be either singular or plural.

Ha! Yet another appeal to authority!

You may think that this is too trifling a matter to blog about, and a commenter in the linked post, M.E. Butler, agrees, emphatically.

How can you waste time with such trivial matters when well over half of Americans cannot conjugate lay and lie correctly?


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2 Comments on “Is “None” Singular or Plural?”

  1. Paul Says:

    “How can you waste time with such trivial matters when well over half of Americans cannot conjugate lay and lie correctly?”

    …or, for that matter, using the words “its” and “it’s” properly…

    I’m just saying.


  2. […] Grammar and It’s Repercussions My older brother blogged about grammar today, in particular, whether the word none was singular or plural (correct […]

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