Back in the day when I was new to the oil patch, a seasoned engineer imparted to me the following wisdom:
There are only two things you need to know as a petroleum engineer:
1) There are 42 gallons in a barrel.
2) The answer to every question is: “That depends.”
Then he asked me: “How many gallons are in a barrel?”
And, of course, the smartest girl in school answered: “Forty-two.”
Wrong! The answer is: “That depends.” It depends on what kind of barrel, of course.
Which brings me to today’s question:
“Does the word ‘none’ take a singular or plural verb?”
Correct answer: “That depends.”
Philosophically, it should take neither, since it is neither one (singular) nor two or more (plural), but zero. However, English speakers and writers haven’t invented zero/nil verb conjugations yet, to my knowledge. Thus, we have to choose either the singular or plural form for our verb.
The word “none” is a contraction for the words “not one,” which would be singular. However, “none” can also mean “not any,” which would be plural. According to the AP Style Guide, “none” can also mean “no amount,” which would also be plural.
Not One: None of the wells was completed on time and under budget.
Not Any: None of the wells in the south portion of the field are producing any water.
No Amount: None of the royalties have been paid.
Here are the two rules of thumb:
1) If you can substitute “not a single one” for none and it makes sense, use a singular verb.
2) If the sense of the subject is singular, use a singular verb; if the sense of the subject is plural, use the plural verb.
Q: Now do you understand whether “none” is singular or plural?
A: That depends.