The Grammarphobia Blog

Is “none” singular or plural?

Q: My question is whether the word “none” can ever take the plural, as in “none are.” I see “none” as a contraction of “not” and “one,” and if this is true it should obviously be followed by “is.” But I hear “none” used in the plural so often—even by fine writers—that sometimes I wonder. If it is strictly a singular word, we need one for the plural, maybe a contraction of “not” and “any,” something like “nany.”

A: The word “none” can be either singular or plural, but it’s more likely to be plural.

Contrary to what many people think, “none” does not always mean “not one.” Historically, its derivation is closer in meaning to “not any.”

The word in Old English was nan, so your suggestion of a contraction “nany” isn’t all that far out.

What to remember: When “none” means “none of them,” it’s plural. Example: “None of the cookies were eaten.” When “none” means “none of it,” it’s singular. Example: “None of the cake was eaten.”

If you really do mean “not one,” my advice is to say “not one.”

You can find more misconceptions about English in “The Living Dead” chapter of my book Woe Is I or on the Grammar Myths page of Grammarphobia.com.