How many of you were taught that “none” stands for “no one,” and must always take a singular verb? Bet none of you get it right all the time.

That’s because saying that “none” is always singular is like saying that you never should split infinitives: It’s not true and never has been, and sometimes making it “right” involves twisting your sentence into knots.

It’s important to look at what there is “none” of. In the second sentence of this posting, “none” is referring to “you,” and “you,” in this context, is clearly plural. It’s really not saying “not one of you,” but “not any of you.” When you speak of quantity like that, you want a plural verb.

Here’s a sentence that appeared recently:

None of the 10 Republican candidates are known in city power circles, and none have given any sign that they have the resources to introduce themselves to voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Make those “nones” singular and here’s what you get:

None of the 10 Republican candidates is known in city power circles, and none has given any sign that they have the resources to introduce themselves to voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

That first “none” could easily be singular as well as plural, but that second one? It’s followed by plural pronouns (“they have the resources to introduce themselves”). You’d have to make all those singular, too, and here’s what you’d get:

None of the 10 Republican candidates are known in city power circles, and none have given any sign that they he has resources to introduce himself to voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Except that one of those Republican candidates is female, so you’d have to make it “he or she …” See what we mean by tying your sentence into knots?

If using “none” as a plural offends your sensibilities, there are lots of ways to avoid it, among them this way:


Not one of the 10 Republican candidates is known in city power circles, and not one of them has given any sign of having the resources to get introduced to voters in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

But you’d have to think about that.

If you think that no one in their right mind would use “none” when they can use “no one,” beware another trap: “No one” is most definitely singular; “their” and “they” are most definitely plural. No one is likely to correct you in casual conversation, but Garner’s Modern American Usage notes that a great many people surveyed said “that such a construction lessens the writer’s credibility.”

And no one wants that.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.