Column: None is the loneliest number


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Is none singular or plural? If any mathletes out there are reading this, they would likely interject, “False! None is zero.” And then they would adjust their adult retainers and get back to discussing their theories on who Rey’s parents really are.

By choosing is in the sentence, the math nerds unwittingly made none singular, grammatically speaking. So, does that mean zero equals one? No. I’m not about to anger the math community more than I already have.

When none means not one or no part, use a singular verb. For example: Because I wanted my body to not hate me, none of McRib was eaten. Similarly, none can be considered singular when part of a mass noun: None of the wine was wasted. Here, wine is a mass noun (as in: I drank the entire massive box of wine all by myself with some help from my trusty twisty straw).

The plot now thickens quicker than a malted milkshake. While many believe none is always singular, none can also be plural. When you’re able to substitute none for not any, none takes a plural verb. For instance: None of the members of the math club have ever kissed a girl. None of them were asked to the prom, so they held an alternative “prob,” which is short for probability. At the prob they thought their chances were statistically decent to end the night with a smooch from the cute girl who recently got contacts. When you make none plural, it makes your syntax less awkward, just like Gwenifer (the girl with the contacts).

So, let’s recap all of the none rules here. Use singular verb agreement when none quantifies a singular or mass noun. When none modifies a plural noun, to me, it sounds/reads better to use plural verb agreement, although both singular and plural are technically acceptable. If someone suggests none always has to be singular, tell them it’s none of their business. If that person is Gwenifer, try not to get lost in her suddenly unforgettable blue eyes.