none of them was/were

Baffled007

New Member
English - UK
Hi guys and girls

Which of the following:-

1) While a number of amateurs worked out of the gym, none of them was instructed by Solly.

2) While a number of amateurs worked out of the gym, none of them were instructed by Solly.

I have just come across sentence (1) in a novel (The Power of One -- great book by the way). I can see why sentence (1) is grammatically correct, but would (2) also be okay? To my ear --I'm English-- (2) sounds far more natural.

Cheers

Baffled007
 
  • JustKate

    Senior Member
    It used to be that, in theory, none was always supposed to mean "not one," in which case was would be the correct verb. And no doubt some people still think that's the most correct. In practice, though, for a very long time it was also sometimes used to mean "not any," in which case, of course, were is correct. But all kinds of persnickety people now accept that none can mean either "not one" or "not any," so you get to pick your verb depending on your desired meaning. I suspect that I use it to mean "not any" far more often than I use it to mean "not one," so I agree that were sounds more natural. That doesn't make was incorrect, though.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    In practice, though, for a very long time it was also sometimes used to mean "not any," in which case, of course, were is correct.
    I suppose so, but not necessarily. I note that even though WRD's first definition of none uses "not any", it nevertheless uses the singular form in the example:
    not any of a particular class: none of my letters has arrived
    On the other hand my Webster, for its "not any" definition of none, gives three examples, two with plural, one with singular.
    That doesn't make was incorrect, though.
    Sure doesn't. Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but I definitely prefer was. I think what makes people baulk at using the singular is seeing it right next to the word "them".
     

    Sun14

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    It is easy to understand none of as not one in this case but it is hard for me to understand it as not any in this case. Would you illustrate it a bit?
     

    JustKate

    Senior Member
    It is easy to understand none of as not one in this case but it is hard for me to understand it as not any in this case. Would you illustrate it a bit?
    "None of the dishes appealed to me."

    You can basically use it pretty much wherever you'd use "not any."

    And if you need a source, the one I used when I said a couple of years ago that none can be either singular or plural, depending on the meaning, was Garner's Modern American Usage.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    (1A) Did any of the dishes appeal to you?
    (1B) No, none of them did.

    (2A) Did one of the dishes appeal to you? (If so, which one?)
    (2B) No, not one of them did.

    Conversation (1) is much more natural sounding. The 'none' in (1B) therefore feels plural (though I haven't actually used a verb that shows the number).
     

    Sun14

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you very much. JustKate and entangledbank. I mean I cannot think of a case in which none of refers to not any.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    It should be pointed out that none does not come from not any, but from nan (old English), which was used with either singular or plural verbs.
    Nan was used with a plural verb as long ago as in AD 888.

    If you really want to make it clear that you are talking about one person/thing then write no one ... was.
    Otherwise use either singular or plural, even if only one person/thing is involved.
     

    Kenny Chang

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Traditional)
    Hello, everyone.

    If the thing is already plural, is it okay to use was?

    For example:
    None of the shoes/jeans/pants/shorts/gloves was expensive.
    If yes, does it refer to "not one pair of"?

    Thank you.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    If the thing is already plural, is it okay to use was?
    After "none of", the thing is always plural. But what you mean is, what if each of the things is a plural (typically a pair).

    I think this would be one situation in which I might exceptionally use 'were' instead of my otherwise usual 'was'.

    What would you say if you did not use 'none of'?
    You'd say either These shoes were expensive (two shoes) or This pair of shoes was expensive (one pair). Therefore:

    None of the pairs of shoes was expensive :tick:(not one pair).
    None of the shoes was expensive. :confused: (this would suggest not one shoe, but we don't usually buy single shoes). (*)
    None of the shoes were expensive. :tick:

    None of the knives was sharp. :tick:
    None of the scissors were sharp. :tick:
    None of the scissors was sharp. :confused:
    I think you could say this, but it would be understood that you meant none of the pairs of scissors was sharp.

    (*) Someone recently told me a true story about some thieves who had broken into the store room of a shoe shop and stolen a conveniently placed load of boxes of shoes. The thieves were eventually tracked down by the police, and it transpired that each box contained only a left shoe, the right one of each pair having been used in a window display (they could display more types of shoe that way, in the limited space available). Their haul was completely useless, unless they could re-sell the shoes to people with two left feet.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    To summarise:
    Butterfield writes in his version of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2015):

    "Verdict: use a singular verb where appropriate but if the notion of plurality is present a plural​
    verb has been optional since the Old English period and in some circumstances is desirable.​
    None of them have finished their essays is better than the clumsy…has finished his or her essay."​
     

    Kenny Chang

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Traditional)
    After "none of", the thing is always plural. But what you mean is, what if each of the things is a plural (typically a pair).

    I think this would be one situation in which I might exceptionally use 'were' instead of my otherwise usual 'was'.

    What would you say if you did not use 'none of'?
    You'd say either These shoes were expensive (two shoes) or This pair of shoes was expensive (one pair). Therefore:

    None of the pairs of shoes was expensive :tick:(not one pair).
    None of the shoes was expensive. :confused: (this would suggest not one shoe, but we don't usually buy single shoes). (*)
    None of the shoes were expensive. :tick:

    None of the knives was sharp. :tick:
    None of the scissors were sharp. :tick:
    None of the scissors was sharp. :confused:
    I think you could say this, but it would be understood that you meant none of the pairs of scissors was sharp.

    (*) Someone recently told me a true story about some thieves who had broken into the store room of a shoe shop and stolen a conveniently placed load of boxes of shoes. The thieves were eventually tracked down by the police, and it transpired that each box contained only a left shoe, the right one of each pair having been used in a window display (they could display more types of shoe that way, in the limited space available). Their haul was completely useless, unless they could re-sell the shoes to people with two left feet.
    Thank you for your detailed explanation. :thumbsup:
     
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