This question has been answered · 16 replies
None of them are going.
None of the students were going.
None of the pies were eaten.
None of the pie was eaten.
Approved answer (verified by Mister Micawber)
The argument stems from a misunderstanding of where the word comes from. People assume that none is a condensed form of no one or not one. As both always take a singular verb, the argument goes, so must none. However, the amateur etymologisers have got it slightly but seriously wrong. Our modern form none comes from the Old English nan. Though this is indeed a contraction of ne an, no one, it was inflected in Old English and had different forms in singular and plural, showing that it was commonly used both ways — King Alfred used it in the plural as far back as the year 888.
The big Oxford English Dictionary has a whole section on the plural form of none, pointing out that it is frequently used to mean “no persons” (with writers preferring no one when they mean the singular) and that historical records show that its use in the plural is actually more common than in the singular. There are examples cited in the entry from many of the best English writers (and there’s also an instance in the Authorised Version of the Bible: “None of these things move me”, from Acts, chapter 20). On modern usage, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage says, “It appears that writers generally make it singular or plural according to whatever their idea is when they write”.
See also: http://www.grammarmudge.cityslide.com/articles/article/1026513/9903.htm
But your examples are all correct.
When the noun is singular, they agree the verb should be singular.
When it's plural, most feel you may use either.
Exception: If you can substitute "not one" or "no one," use the singular verb.
Not one of them has finished. (None of them has finished.)
In the sentence, "None of them has/have finished," the question of whether you could substitute "no one" or "no ones" is entirely in the mind of the speaker.
Therefore the choice reverts to "notional concord" - whatever's in your head.
Anyway, 68% of the "usage panel" agree(s) that the speaker is free to make the choice.
(That was in 1980.)
In GG's first reference, the author contends that the idea that "none" derives from "no one" or "not one" is ill advised. But that fact doesn't seem to have any bearing on the choice of a singular or plural verb.
(Well, maybe a little.)
AvangiThe authorities seem to be split on this.I don't pretend to be an authority, and I know that Avangi knows that. I just try to make all grammatical "rules" make sense to me, at least.
My post was only two minutes behind yours, and I didn't see what you'd written until afterward.
You wrote "Opinions vary." I wrote "Authorities are split," or something like that.
I thought we came out pretty close on that point.
My second post was in response to GG. I think it's interesting that only 67% are in favor of the plural option. That means the rest of the "authorities" are with you. [Y]
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