Sunday, 8 January 2012

A grammar question

I received an email from a student who asked a very good question on grammar.  When do we use singular or plural with 'none'? Here's the question and the response:

Saturday, January 7, 2012 12:32 PM

hi, teacher~ i am __________

i would like to ask about some grammar
~none of these girls enjoys curry
~none of these girls enjoy curry

which sentence should i choose


My response

This grammar item has always caused confusion amongst students and teachers. Look the the following sentences. Which is correct?

1. “None of the apples is rotten.”
2. “None of the apples are rotten.”

In addressing this question, there are two schools of thought:

The first school of thought (singular)

They argue that 'none' which stands for "not one" must always be singular and therefore the first sentence is correct. 

The second school of thought (singular and plural)
The second school of thought believes that "none" is singular or plural depending on what it refers to. In the example above, "none" refers to" apples". "apples" is the referent and since it is a plural noun, we need a plural verb "are".

My opinion:
I prefer the first explanation when it comes to formal writing but I'm not saying the second is wrong. We need to decide whether we are sticking to the rules (the first school of thought) or usage pattern (the second school of thought). If you google the phrase, you are most likely to find the second sentence is also correct and it sounds natural to use the plural "are".

Here are further examples to tickle the brain:

1. None of the books is/are expensive.
2. None of the reasons has/have been accepted.
3. None of the students likes/likes the movie.

 The Thinking Teacher

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