Were is used with plural pronouns

The kids were hungry.

And we can add "None of":

None of the kids were hungry.

But I read a lot of articles and books use "was" with "None of":

None of the kids was injured.

None of them was so unconcerned about the state...

At that time none of the men was being troubled ...

So, in formal english, What should we use with "none of"? "was" or "were"?

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Both sentences are grammatical.

When you use the phrase "none of" in front of a plural noun or pronoun, you can use either a singular or plural form of a verb.

However, the plural form is common both in formal and in informal English. The singular form is formal and isn't much used.

Besides, if there's an uncountable noun or a singular pronoun in front of the "none of", you use a singular form of a verb after it (The Free Dictionary). For examples:

None of the wheat was ruined.

Yet none of this has seriously affected business.

  • thank you, can you recommend me a reference, please? I want to read more about this subject. – Shannak Feb 12 '17 at 9:54
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    thefreedictionary.com/none – Khan Feb 12 '17 at 10:19
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    There's a missing point here that I think is crucial to understanding the picture; at least it was for me. That is, when you use "none of" in front of a singular noun or pronoun, you have to use a singular form of a verb. This is pointed out in the quote in MadGab's answer (with some preliminary confusion thrown in, unfortunately). – Don Hatch Feb 13 '17 at 9:16
  • @DonHatch, I appreciate your comments. I have included the use of an uncountable noun and a singular pronoun in my answer. – Khan Feb 13 '17 at 12:01

The key here is that there is actually a plural and singular sense of none.

Rule: The word none is versatile. It has a plural sense (“not any”) as well as a singular sense (“not a single one”). When none is followed by of, look at the noun in your of phrase (object of the preposition). If the object of the preposition is singular, use a singular verb. If the object of the preposition is plural, there is more leeway. Most of the time, but not always, you will want to use a plural verb.

For example:

None of the cakes were finished.

Noun is plural, use plural verb.

None of the cake was left.

Noun is singular, use singular verb.

None of the food has spoiled.

Noun is singular (and in a special class of uncountable words like 'luck' or 'water' that have no plural form). Use singular verb.

Hope that helps!

Source

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    -1, sorry. "None of the food is here" is clearly not using a plural sense and is clearly not using the sense "not a single one". It seems that the author of that paragraph realized additional facts mid-writing, and forgot to go back and fix the rest of the paragraph to account for those facts. – ruakh Feb 13 '17 at 1:46
  • A little confused by the down vote. "None of the food is here" > "none of the food were here." You're right though, we're clearly not using the plural sense, so, according to the author, we should use "is", as you did. So the author's logic holds up. – MadGab Feb 13 '17 at 2:12
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    Actually, how are we not using the plural sense, "not any"? "None of the food" = "not any of the food", which leaves us in the land of leeway in terms of our verb, the singular working best. – MadGab Feb 13 '17 at 2:19
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    Re: "how are we not using the plural sense, 'not any'?": Calling it "plural" does not make it so. – ruakh Feb 13 '17 at 2:26
  • The quote ultimately gives the right answer but it starts out by confusing. I think, in order to clear up the confusion, one must realize that the 2nd sentence "It has a plural sense ("not any") as well as a singular sense ("not a single one")" only refers to when we're talking about the case when it's followed by a plural noun. It doesn't make sense in the case when it's followed by a singular noun. E.g. "not a single one of the food" doesn't work. Perhaps that's the reason for the downvote. But the rest of the quote does illuminate the situation, better than the accepted answer. – Don Hatch Feb 13 '17 at 9:15

Taking your example:

The kids were hungry.

Adding "none of" to the beginning changes the sentence structure.

None of the kids was hungry.

In the first sentence, "kids" is the subject and is clearly plural. Therefore, a plural verb is called for.

In the second sentence, "none" is the subject, and "of the kids" is now an adjective phrase, with "kids" as the object of that phrase and therefore the antecedent of "none". To determine whether a singular or plural verb is needed, it just has to be answered whether "none" is singular or plural.

At least in today's common American vernacular, for this example, neither choice is awkward enough to be considered 'wrong'. One might consider "none" as assuming the same number as its antecedent (making it plural in this example, and context dependent in general), or as simply a contraction of "not one" or "no one" (making it always singular).

Compare with this example, in which using the plural verb would be incorrect:

Not one of the kids was hungry.

I would venture that in speech and informal writing, more people will say "were", but in formal writing, more would write "was". You may get different answers depending on culture and region.

  • Thank you, "To determine whether a singular or plural verb is needed, it just has to be answered whether "none" is singular or plural." So, Is "none" singular or plural? – Shannak Feb 14 '17 at 10:27

Good question. The answer is definitely "were". Using "was" in those cases all sounds like slang or a slight southern accent.

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    Or it may sound like you learned how to write from the 1959 edition of Strunk and White and never gave up that style. Far from sounding like slang or a regional usage, "was" sounds quite formal (possibly too formal) to me in the examples given. If you put "was" in the first example, however, it sounds non-standard: "The kids was hungry." – David K Feb 12 '17 at 13:38
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    As someone who grew up in the south, I agree that was" in this context would come off as southern slang. I'd equate the examples as saying "We was hungry." It doesn't sound formal to me at all. – Chris Schneider Feb 12 '17 at 23:45
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    @ChrisSchneider There is a world of difference between "we was hungry" (definitely not formal English) and "every one of us was hungry" (very formal English, one might even say too formal for most occasions). Somewhere in between is "none of us was hungry," which I assure you is quite correct English in a formal written setting (check your favorite style manual), though nowadays it may sound old-fashioned. – David K Feb 13 '17 at 1:54
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    @David “Every one of us was hungry” is not formal at all to me. It is perfectly commonplace. Its plural-agreement counterpart “Every one of us *were hungry”, on the other hand, is completely ungrammatical to me, even more so than “We was hungry”, which is ungrammatical to me, but instantly recognisable as dialectal. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 13 '17 at 15:58
  • @JanusBahsJacquet "Too formal" may have been an overstatement. At least we agree that the phrase in that case is grammatically correct, and I think we agree that it could be used in formal writing. – David K Feb 13 '17 at 16:21

So, in formal english, What should we use with "none of"? "was" or "were"?

In formal English it should be "was", the subject of your sentence "one of the kids" is singular. You'll often hear people use "were", because to their ears the plural noun next to the singular verb sounds wrong.

  • I don't think this is applicable in the plural case, which is what the question is asking about. It is very applicable and interesting in the singular case, however-- true, we often say "none of the kids were", "one of the kids were", "each of the kids were", none of which holds up on closer inspection. It's as if the speaker gets short-term memory loss and forgets that the "were" is talking about the none/one/each rather than the "kids". – Don Hatch Feb 13 '17 at 9:29
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    @Don It’s not just a matter of short-term memory loss in the case of none. Even when there is no plural noun to confuse matters, the plural is common: “Three of the kids were thirsty, but none were hungry” sounds perfectly natural to most speakers (none has been used with both singular and plural nouns like this for over a millennium). Conversely, “one of the kids were” sounds decidedly wrong to most speakers (excluding those dialects who have generalised plural forms throughout the paradigm, i.e., I were, he were), even if they may sometimes produce it in improvised speech. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 13 '17 at 16:00

The other answers are really useful, but I want to share more details that may help to understand this subject.

I highly recommend this article to understand this question and its answers: Subject-Verb Agreement

Rule 8. With words that indicate portions—e.g., a lot, a majority, some, all—Rule 1 given earlier in this section is reversed, and we are guided by the noun after of. If the noun after of is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.

Examples:

  • A lot of the pie has disappeared.
  • A lot of the pies have disappeared.
  • A third of the city is unemployed.

but also there is this note within the article

NOTE

In recent years, the SAT testing service has considered none to be strictly singular. However, according to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage: "Clearly none has been both singular and plural since Old English and still is. The notion that it is singular only is a myth of unknown origin that appears to have arisen in the 19th century. If in context it seems like a singular to you, use a singular verb; if it seems like a plural, use a plural verb. Both are acceptable beyond serious criticism." When none is clearly intended to mean "not one," it is followed by a singular verb.

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