None: singular or plural verb?

 

Q:

Could you tell me please if none must take an -s ending with the verb in the phrase as follows:

None of us want to see beautiful places overdeveloped.

Want or wants? I took this sentence from http://www.longman-elt.com/exams/students/

M.Tulupova
t0ol@male.ru

A:

This is a very good question indeed. There isn't total agreement among grammarians about the necessity to use a singular verb with none when referring to count nouns or to plural pronouns (us in the question you ask). (With noncount nouns, there is no problem: the singular verb comes easily, as in "None of the information was correct" and "None of this water is drinkable.")

It used to be asserted that none mean "not one." Because the word "one" is singular, it was prescribed that none, as well as "one," require a singular verb.

The plural use, however, is not wrong, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996, p.1230):

Either a singular or a plural verb is acceptably used in a sentence such as "None of the conspirators has (or have) been brought to trial."

This conflict of rules is described in The Grammar Book, 2nd ed. (Heinle & Heinle, 1999, p.63):

When none refers to a plural noun-human or nonhuman-usage seems to be more or less equally divided between the singular and plural inflection.in the survey cited.

None of those firemen _____ (enjoy: 47%; enjoys: 53%) hearing the alarm go off.

None of the costumes he has tried _____ (fit: 50 %; fits: 50%) him.

From the same source, p.64:

Clearly, the traditional prescription that none is always singular is inadequate..ESL/EFL teachers must be aware of the fact that when the subject none refers to a plural countable noun, the plural verb inflection may well be used if current usage is any indication.

Betty Azar, in Understanding and Using English Grammar, 3rd ed. (Pearson Education, 2002, p. 89), gives examples of both "is" and "are" used with none, referring to count nouns: "None of the boys is here" and "None of the boys are here." The explanation states: "Subjects with none of are considered singular in very formal English, but plural verbs are often used in informal speech and writing."

So, as is often the case in modern English grammar, there is no one answer. The wording you choose illustrates how formal or informal or "correct" you wish to be in your expression. In your example sentence, both None of us want and None of us wants are correct.

Return to the Key Word Index