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I was asked if the following sentences will create problems and what are the assumptions I have to make:

(d) There are grammarians in the room but none of them is an American.

(e) There are grammarians in the room but none of them are Americans.

What is the problem in both sentences?

They clearly have two main clauses which are connected by the coordinated conjunction 'but'. I know that grammar-wise, the 'is/are' don't really matter since both can be used with 'none', but would the tense in the first main clause 'are' affect the use of 'none'?

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    I suspect what you're really asking isn't "What word[s] is/are the grammatical subject here?". The only reason this seems to matter is because you're not sure whether "none [of some group]" should be singular or plural. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 23 '14 at 20:01
  • Both d and e seem to be incorrect. none in this cause is plural, in the same logic that 0 is plural. 0 horses, rather than 0 horse. Additionally, the word American here is an adjective, and as such should be American, not Americans. There are three phrases you can use: There are grammarians in the room, but not one of them is an American. There are grammarians in the room, but not one of them is American. Or, There are grammarians in the room, but none of them are American. – Rob Oct 24 '14 at 8:29
  • @FumbleFingers: You are correct, I am not really interested in finding out what are the subjects in d/e, but rather what we can do to find out. You see, d/e clearly are extensions of c, and while we have already worked out the subject for c, I am wondering if the same rule applies to d/e, that is, if "Grammarians" is the subject, what does it make "none of them" to be then? And "none of them" should be either singular/plural right? I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter depending on your usage? – user11488 Oct 24 '14 at 19:43
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    @Rob You can use either adjectives or nouns with "to be", so you can use "American" as an adjective in "is American", or as a noun in "is an American" and "are Americans". The examples here all use "American" as a noun. – Dan Getz Oct 24 '14 at 20:45
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First, let's just dispel the idea that none of them has any "fixed, correct" plurality...

Note that it's much the same for us as it is for them, and any other animate/inanimate group whom/which we might think of, including OP's grammarians. Grammatically, both these are fine...

1: There are grammarians in this room, but none of them has the right to prohibit this usage
2: There are grammarians in this room, but none of them have the right to prohibit this usage either

As the above links show, singular and plural are both perfectly common. Idiomatically there are some context-specific preferences - plural "none of them like me" is way more common than "none of them likes me". Perhaps because people saying that are thinking more of how many people don't like them.


The other issue raised by OP's examples is that...

3: He is an American
4: He is American

...are both perfectly valid (#3 is a noun usage, #4 is adjectival). But...

5: He is a grammarian
6: ?He is grammarian

I've marked #6 with ? because grammarian can't be used adjectivally like that. The few results in the link at #6 are a relatively uncommon construction involving deleted articles before nouns within lists.


TL;DR: OP's examples (d1) and (e1) are both fine. In both cases, the grammatical/syntactic "subject" is none of them, which can be treated as singular or plural according to stylistic preference. It's irrelevant whether them refers to grammarians or Americans (or example sentences, come to that).

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Both sentences can be reworded to make the subject clear. There are no American grammarians in the room. None of the Grammarians in the room are Americans.

It seems you have it correct already.

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OAlD has an interesting usage note as to "none of + plural".

1 None of the trains is going to London (formal).

2 None of the trains are going to London (possible).

http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/none_1

I would consider 1 as the grammatically correct formulation. But the plural trains has the effect that in spoken language possibiliy 2 is also common.

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