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Public editor: ‘None’ is always singular, right? Not so fast

Sylvia Stead is The Globe's first-ever public editor.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

I've heard from a few readers asking about the use of the word none in Friday's Senate story. Two sentences jumped out: "None of the senators under investigation have been charged in connection with their expense claims" and, later on "None of the senators were in the chamber on Thursday."

One reader wrote: "That's the equivalent of 'No one have …' I write because the error has occurred frequently lately, and I think it reflects on the quality of the content."

Another reader said: "I think of The Globe and Mail as one of the better newspapers – until I find bad grammar on the front page. (The front page article says 'None of the senators under investigation have been charged …' None is singular – not one. Therefore, the sentence should read 'None of the senators under investigation has been charged.'

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There! I've said my piece – now I can sit back and enjoy the paper."

Now, I admit the word none often stumps me. My mother taught me that none means not one and therefore is always singular. Turns out that is not true.

Here's what The Globe Style Guide says: "Fowler, Nelson, Oxford and others agree that none may take either singular or plural verbs, depending on the meaning, and some hold that the plural is the commoner construction. Regard it as a sort of negative collective, and decide whether the things referred to are being considered as individuals or as a unit. Say none of the bills are counterfeit, but none of the money is mine. None of the crowd have abandoned their places, but none of the crowd has spilled out of the square. If the construction sounds awkward, reword."

I still found that confusing so I checked with two of The Globe's great editors. They said very simply the word can be used either way and it generally depends on the following prepositional phrase. So if you say none of the money (a singular word), that follows with a singular verb: is. If you say none of the bills (plural) or none of the senators (plural) it follows with a plural verb: are.

So in this case, the usage was proper. Any questions or challenges, please let me know at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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