"is" or "are" for "none"?

edited December 2012 in - Writing Problems
Should I use "is" or "are" following the word "none" when referring to a number of objects? Here are the example sentences:

"A handful of Tridents remain on display, though none are airworthy."

"A handful of Tridents remain on display, though none is airworthy."
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Comments

  • none = not one, so is.
  • I'd go with 'are', because it reads right.
    Whether that is technically correct, I have no idea- you need Red...
  • I'd say 'are' too, because it's 'not one of them' which is plural.
  • Another vote for "is". If we use Anna's construction "Not one of them", the verb should correspond to "not one". If you're not sure why, remove the negative and assume that there are several Tridents, all except one of which are broken. We would then say "One of them is airworthy". To form the negative, simply put "not" in front of the sentence.

    In some sentences, "are" simply reads and sounds better. I would say that this is not one of them (although there isn't a hard and fast rule, because Carol disagrees with me).
  • LizLiz
    edited December 2012
    It means 'not one' or 'not any' and can be plural OR singular. So it depends on context.

    Just read your context - more than one of the Tridents COULD be airworthy, and there are more than one Trident, so I'd go for the 'are'.
  • IMO grammatically speaking it should be 'is' because 'none' is a contraction of 'not one'
    but
    usage has changed and in some situations 'are' sounds more correct, even though it isn't.
  • Chambers says it is also a contraction of 'not any' Liz, and it is singular or plural. So usage has not changed.
  • For instance - 'none of your business' means 'not any of your business'.
  • Having googled a bit it appears that what I have always believed to be true ('is'), actually isn't, and, as others have said it can be either.

    However, what I can't get my Friday evening head round is what the difference is between 'not one' and 'not any'.

    If we are talking about uncountable things - water, sand - then it is always 'is' (none of the water is drinkable).

    But if we are talking about countable things - people, aircraft - what is the difference? My head feels funny now and I need another mince pie.
  • edited December 2012
    I agree 100% with those who have said 'none' means 'not one'.

    It sounds odd to say 'None of us is coming', but that is grammatically correct.

    None is singular.

    [quote=heather]If we are talking about uncountable things - water, sand - then it is always 'is' (none of the water is drinkable).[/quote]

    Yes, these are all singular, so you would use 'is'.

    [quote=heather]But if we are talking about countable things - people, aircraft[/quote]

    People is plural, therefore use 'are'.

    Aircraft, depending on context can be singular or plural, so would use 'is' or 'are' accordingly.

    That aircraft is damaged. We can't use it.

    All the aircraft are damaged. We can't use them.
  • [quote=Liz]Chambers says it is also a contraction of 'not any' Liz, and it is singular or plural. So usage has not changed.[/quote]
    I stand corrected - or, in this case, sit!
  • It might be easier to change the way you write it. :)

    This just goes to show that the English language can be really confusing sometimes.
  • But Nell - Chambers is a very respected dictionary, and the very first thing it says is that none is plural OR singular.

    Not any is short for 'not any of THEM', and therefore could be a plural - ie two or more of them of 'them' might have been, whatever.
  • [quote=Liz]But Nell - Chambers is a very respected dictionary, and the very first thing it says is that none is plural OR singular. [/quote]


    Then it is War of the Dictionaries!

    Oxford Dictionary: 'Not any (one) of'


    I shall not be moved!

    It's something that was brought to my attention through my study of English, and something I was determined to remember and stick to whilst others failed at the first fence.
    Maybe, since then, usage has become extended to include the plural as shown by Chambers, but you will never hear me utter or write 'None of them are . . .'

    Blame the OCD.
  • [quote=Liz]Not any is short for 'not any of THEM'[/quote]

    P.S. I would say it is short for 'not any ONE of them'.

    (smiley face kept under wraps on Liz's behalf)
  • edited December 2012
    *is very glad he is a 'seat of pants' writer and doesn't worry overmuch about the niceties. If it sounds right, it probably is.*

    *exits,shamefaced.*
  • OED: It is sometimes held that 'none' can only take a singular verb: none of them is coming. There is little justification, historical or grammatical, for this view.
    'None' is descended from OE 'nan' meaning not one, and has been used for around a thousand years with both a singular and a plural verb, depending on the context and the emphasis needed.

    So go with what feels right to you given the context.
  • edited December 2012
    I love threads like this. Makes my head spin - but in a good way as I like to think it means it's giving the old brain cells a work-out.

    :)

    Edited to add the smiley - sorry but I like 'em!
  • The reason I asked is that I wrote the sentence using "are" but the editor changed it to "is". I find these subtleties of English usage confusing, especially as "are" reads intuitively right, even if grammatically it's wrong.

    I'm with Claudia in having a spinning head!
  • OED says you can use 'are', DB - the editor's possibly using house style. Doesn't mean he's right (or wrong!)
  • Over the years many of these questionable usages have become either can be used...
  • edited December 2012
    " None of my friends is a murderer"

    Peter O'Toole, Lawrence of Arabia. A memorable line, memorably spoken.
  • My immediate gut reaction is 'none are...'

    but now I'll go back and read the thread.
  • I would argue that 'none of them are airworthy' implies that all of them are 'not airworthy', not each of them. 'None of them is...' sounds wrong to me.
  • Neil, I think P O'T should have said: None of my friends are murderers.

    Mind you, Laurence of Arabia operated nearly 100 years ago, so maybe that's an archaism.
  • From Fowler's:
    ... use a singular verb where possible but if the notion of plurality is present a plural verb has been optional since the OE (Old English) period and in some circumstances is desirable.
  • [quote=scratch].. use a singular verb where possible but if the notion of plurality is present a plural verb has been optional since the OE (Old English) period and in some circumstances is desirable.[/quote]

    ... run that by me again?
  • LizLiz
    edited December 2012
    Use it if it sounds like a plural. Well, we knew that...
  • In the original sentence quoted I think it should be 'is'
  • I raised this discussion over Christmas dinner where various writers and academics were at the table.

    They all agreed on

    'None . . . is'.
  • None does mean "not one", but it also means "not two", "not three", not any number. So another vote for plural in that context, where you have a collection of countable things.

    If two out of three Tridents could still fly, you'd say two were airworthy and one isn't.
    If it was only one, you'd say one is airworthy and two aren't.
    With none of them being fit to fly, surely it's "none are"? - i.e. three of them aren't airworthy.

    The singular makes sense in a construction like this:
    There are four petrol stations in the neighbourhood, although none of them offers a significant saving over the others.

    i.e. when you're describing a situation where one item in a given collection could be different to the others, but isn't.
  • [quote=danfango]There are four petrol stations in the neighbourhood, although none of them offers a significant saving over the others.[/quote]

    Why is that different from:-

    DeneBebbo wrote: "A handful of Tridents remain on display, though none is airworthy."
  • Because in the quoted top sentence he is talking about one being cheaper than the others rather than the possibility of two or ore being cheaper than the others.
  • In both cases, "remain" should be "remains", as the subject of the sentence, "handful", is singular.
  • [quote= DeneBebbo]Should I use "is" or "are" following the word "none" when referring to a number of objects?[/quote]
    This query may result in a bald head. Rather the variety of opinions' offered in answer. I've been scratching my head, pondering the dilemma, for the fourteen days since DeneBebbo posed the conundrum.

    Referring to "The New International Webster's Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language", seeking an alternative view, only increases my confusion. In offering "none" to mean; not one, no one, no, not any. The definition concludes the word to be "Archaic ..... generally before a vowel; none other gods before me."

    Considering all thirty four preceding observations, [quote=Carol]It might be easier to change the way you write it.[/quote] appears a most practical solution.
    May I begin this alternative approach with the following suggestion.
    "The handful of Tridents on display are not airworthy."

    All opinions will be appreciated.
  • [quote=Jan]Referring to "The New International Webster's Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language", seeking an alternative view, only increases my confusion. In offering "none" to mean; not one, no one, no, not any. The definition concludes the word to be "Archaic ..... generally before a vowel; none other gods before me."[/quote]

    Isn't Webster's an American dictionary? I wouldn't consider "none" to be archaic in British English.
  • There are archaic uses of many words; doesn't mean there aren't modern ones too.

    'Like Webster's Dictionary, we're Morocco bound' - Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in The Road to Morocco.
  • [quote= DeneBebbo]Isn't Webster's an American dictionary?[/quote]
    Exactly, therefore providing means to step away and view interpretation from a different perspective. Talkback is, afterall, an International congregation of English writers'. Not that the idea assisted resolution in this instance.

    [quote=Mrs Bear]archaic uses of many words[/quote]
    Archaic wins favour from me. I'm 'guilty' of enjoying use of words in their full spelling with preference for many that gain little attention in current usage.
  • [quote=Jan]Archaic wins favour from me. I'm 'guilty' of enjoying use of words in their full spelling with preference for many that gain little attention in current usage.[/quote]

    Include me in on that.
  • [quote=Jan]The definition concludes the word to be "Archaic ..... generally before a vowel; none other gods before me."[/quote]

    My interpretation of that sentence is that that definition of the word is archaic, rather than the word itself.
  • edited January 2013
    I love this thread.
    And I shall now go off to bed thinking about it! (Hope that doesn't make me too sad.)
  • [quote= DeneBebbo]Should I use "is" or "are" following the word "none" when referring to a number of objects? Here are the example sentences:

    "A handful of Tridents remain on display, though none are airworthy."
    "A handful of Tridents remain on display, though none is airworthy." [/quote]

    As lots of people have already pointed out, they are both correct. 'None' is both singular and plural (hence much confusion, because many of us will have been taught that the subject of a sentence requires a singular verb, but the plurality of 'none' could mean 'not any'). It sometimes boils down to HOW the sentence can be read, interpreted and understood.

    [quote=Lah-tay]In both cases, "remain" should be "remains", as the subject of the sentence, "handful", is singular. [/quote]

    That depends on singularity or plurality, and placement of subject and verb:

    'A handful of tridents remain on display, though none ARE airworthy'

    'A handful of Tridents remains on display, though none IS airworthy'

    Clear as mud.
  • [quote=Onlinegenie]My interpretation of that sentence is that that definition of the word is archaic, rather than the word itself.[/quote]

    I see that now. My brain hasn't been working well recently :-(
  • [quote=Lah-tay]In both cases, "remain" should be "remains", as the subject of the sentence, "handful", is singular. [/quote]

    I really need to read a book on grammar because I thought the subject of the sentence was the Tridents.
  • edited January 2013
    Dene, the subject is the noun phrase "a handful of tridents" - therefore singular, because only one hand holds the tridents, figuratively speaking. Hope that helps.
  • [quote=Tristram_Shandy]Dene, the subject is the noun phrase "a handful of tridents" - therefore singular, because only one hand holds the tridents, figuratively speaking. Hope that helps. [/quote]

    I've always been interested in words, but I have to say that grammar just gives me a headache! In my simple understanding of English I thought that because Tridents is plural then "none are" is correct. Presumably "none are" would be correct if I'd written the following sentence:

    A few Tridents remain on display, though none are airworthy.
  • edited January 2013
    One handful, several Tridents: the airworthiness refers to the Tridents, not the handful. Of those several Tridents, not one is airworthy.
    I'd be tempted to by-pass the question altogether before it drove me nuts, and say, 'Of the few remaining Tridents, not a single one was found to be airworthy.'
  • [quote=Mrs Bear]I'd be tempted to by-pass the question altogether before it drove me nuts, and say, 'Of the few remaining Tridents, not a single one was found to be airworthy.' [/quote]

    The article has already been published, and I asked the question because the editor changed "are" to "is" and I wasn't sure who was right - though the odds were on the editor! This thread is useful in helping me to understand the subtlety of grammar.
  • Morning all

    [quote=DeneBebbo]This thread is useful in helping me to understand the subtlety of grammar.[/quote]

    Agree with that - it's fascinating stuff.
  • Dene,

    If you change your first clause to "A few of the tridents", then using "remain" would be correct, yes, because you're referring explicitly to the plural rather than a singular collection.

    As for the "none is" vs. "none are" debate, I used to believe that "none is" would be the correct syntax either way (none = not one). And that was thanks to Oxford's own book on English usage. But these days the good old Oxford boffs have realised that none is derived from an Old English word which takes either "is" or "are" depending on your own preference. Apparently there never was, going back to the original Old English, any precedent set for using one or the other because singular and plural versions were written way back then in any context.

    And English changes anyway, even if we try to cling to it in its contemporary form. To be honest, there are ways I don't want it to change; but I can't ignore the fact that it has already - a lot. In fact it's changed so much that some letters have disappeared. Ever heard of "eth", "thorn" or "wynn"? These were letters of the English alphabet many moons ago!
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