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Not being a cat none of them could catch the mouse.

Is the sentence above grammatical? Or is it a double negation? Then how to reformulate it?

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  • 20
    It sounds a bit odd... perhaps "Not being cats, none of them could catch the mouse". This matches the plural of "cats" with the plural of "them".
    – Catija
    Dec 14, 2016 at 21:00
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    "None" is one of the more confusing words in that sometimes it's treated as a contraction of "no one" (singular) but other times as referring to the individual members of the group collectively (plural)
    – MMacD
    Dec 14, 2016 at 22:17
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    Considering the previous two comments: "Not being a cat, no one of them could catch the mouse." then the singular "cat" matches to the singular "one".
    – MT0
    Dec 15, 2016 at 13:13
  • @MT0 That actually reads wrong to me as a native speaker. "Not being a cat, none of them ..." is how I would say it. (MMacD is correct that "none" is, in this context, derived from "no one", but that doesn't mean you can substitute "no one". This is Just One Of Those Things.)
    – zwol
    Dec 15, 2016 at 17:19
  • @zwol Also as a native speaker, using "no one" it is not grammatically incorrect but feels archaic - the point was to highlight that using "cat" rather than "cats" is valid since the singular "cat" can be matched to the singular member "none" (or "no one") belonging to the group "them". I would also say "Not being a cat, none of them could catch the mouse".
    – MT0
    Dec 15, 2016 at 23:42

5 Answers 5

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In this case your seeming "double negation" is actually required for the meaning you wish.

Let's look at the sentence in a more standard format.

They could not catch the mouse because they are not cats.

As you can see, both the "none of them" and the "not" are necessary. Without one of them, the sentence is odd. This is because the negations are referring to two different things.

They could not catch the mouse because they are cats.

In this case, it makes little sense. Cats are well-known to be good at catching mice, so we are a bit confused.

They could catch the mouse because they are not cats.

Now they have managed to catch the mouse, despite not being cats! Well, sure, many creatures other than cats can catch mice, so this isn't too strange but it implies that cats can't catch mice and that the only reason they were able to do so is because they are not cats.

So, the correct form must have both of the negatives.


Now that we know the negation is correct, let's look at the form of your sentence.

Not being a cat none of them could catch the mouse.

This is actually a fun form that is used in literature quite often. It's not necessarily an everyday form but it's perfectly valid and understandable.

That being said, I recommend a couple of alterations. First, "a cat" doesn't match "none of them". So that needs to change. Also, I recommend adding a comma after the introductory phrase.

Not being cats, none of them could catch the mouse.
Not being a cat, he couldn't catch the mouse.


Double negatives are an important thing to look out for but you need to pay attention to what is being negated.

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    Sure, but the original sentence has the same implication.
    – Catija
    Dec 15, 2016 at 3:12
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    None is a contraction of not one, no? So not one of them was a cat. The singular is correct here.
    – nekomatic
    Dec 15, 2016 at 8:55
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    Wouldn't "a cat" be in concordance with "none"? Being a cat, one of them could catch the mouse -> Not being a cat, not one of them could catch the mouse.
    – walen
    Dec 15, 2016 at 8:58
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    You are talking about a group of people. Unless you are saying that the entire group forms a single cat, you need plural "cats".
    – Catija
    Dec 15, 2016 at 10:20
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    "None" is singular; "them" is plural. "Them, being not cats..." - "One of them, being a cat" Dec 15, 2016 at 12:53
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It is grammatically well formed, but could be better punctuated, and the slight stress between the singular in the first phrase and the plural in the main clause can be eliminated:

Not being cats, none of them could catch the mouse.

The meaning is "None of them could catch the mouse because they were not cats."

There is no double negative; there are two clauses, each with a negative. A double negative is when a single verb is used with two negative forms "He doesn't dislike fish". Note that, as in this example, there is nothing wrong with all double negatives. They are sometimes poor style, but are part of English grammar.

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  • That stress between "cat" and "none" singular vs "them" is what makes the sentence interesting for me Dec 15, 2016 at 12:54
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This sentence is much more readable with the addition of a single comma:

Not being a cat, none of them could catch the mouse.

The clause "Not being a cat" applies to the subject of the sentence, which is "none". However, the pronoun "none" can mean either "not one" or "not any". If it means "not one", it's singular. If it means "not any", it's plural. The only way to know which is to look at the prepositional phrase "of them" which describes "none". Because "them" is plural, "none of them" is also plural and can be read as "not any of them".

Not being a cat, not any of them could catch the mouse.

The subject of the clause "Not being a cat" should agree with the plural subject "not any of them", and so is not grammatically correct. The sentence should be written:

Not being cats, none of them could catch the mouse.

As for the negatives, the "not" of the first clause must match the "none" of the main sentence. The alternatives make no sense:

Being cats, none of the could catch the mouse.

Not being cats, any of them could catch the mouse.

So in this sense the sentence is correct as written.

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  • +1 for the first sentence of this answer. That subtle change makes the phrase much more pleasing to the mind's ear.
    – Wossname
    Dec 15, 2016 at 21:08
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What's a "cat none?"

Yes, that sentence is "grammatical," but I think you mean to ask if it's grammatically correct, and it is not.

First, a comma is required between "cat" and "none" to make the meaning clear.

"Not being a cat, none of them could catch the mouse."

There is no double negative, there are two separate single negatives, which is fine. Not cats, can not catch -- perfectly clear.

Some here say that you need plural "cats" to match plural "them," but that does not preserve the meaning of the sentence. As it is, the sentence means because not a single one of them is a cat, they could not catch the mouse. With the plural "not being cats" it means because they aren't a group of cats, they could not catch the mouse.

There is no need for agreement. Because not a single one of us is a fish [singular], we [plural] should be able to understand that.

If you want to be slavish about grammatical accuracy, you could say, "Because not a single one of them was a cat, they could not catch the mouse," but that breaks the grammar rule of not making sentences sound like ass.

And the cat thing does not explain why the mouse can't be caught. Beings that are not cats catch mice all the time. This sentence is meant to be poetical or frivolous, and if it's meant to be poetic, then I suggest the following:

"Not one of them a cat, they could not catch the mouse."

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It takes a cat to catch a mouse.

By saying it this way, you signal four important things all at once:

  1. there is a mouse likely still on the loose
  2. only cats catch mice
  3. when this particular mouse was present, there were no cats nearby
  4. all those who were present, were not cats.

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