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With reference to "Neither", "none", "no one" + [of them] + verb-s

None of the above sentences is strictly correct.

Neither of the above sentence/sentences is/are strictly correct.

Tense choice problem The person has used are with none. This contradicts above notion of using singular with none. Which is more correct?

The first sentence is perfectly fine, but I'm getting confused from the second sentence. In this sentence, how would we decide about antecedents? Can we use both sentence interchangeably?

  • 1
    Downvoter please see the reference. – Sudhir Mar 29 '13 at 2:27
  • @snailplane I see your point. I think of "neither" as referring to the sentences. But if you think of "neither" as "neither one or the other" then it is really only talking about one sentence at a time. In that case, "is" makes sense. – user485 Mar 29 '13 at 4:18
  • From the title, I would get you are asking when you need to use neither or none. Is that what you are really interested in? – kiamlaluno Mar 29 '13 at 5:15
8

Although there are many people that claim that "none" and "neither" should always take the singular form, it's always sounded odd to me, so I decided to dig into it a bit further.

For example, here is an Ngram of "none of us is" / "none of us are":

Ngram

In this case, we can clearly see that "none of us are" - i.e. the supposedly "ungrammatical" form of the sentence was vastly more popular until roughly 1880. In 1880 or so "none of us is" began to take hold, and in the 1920s there was a steep decline in the use of "none of us are" - perhaps in response to overzealous copy editors enforcing the so called rule.

Most interesting is what's happened since the 1990s, where "none of us are" has shot back to prominence, leading to the fact that "none of us are" is now the dominant form again.

As suggested by snailplane, here's some interesting additional reading which seems to confirm my opinion that "none/neither should take the singular" is a wholly invented rule:

As a native speaker, I've always just gone with choosing the verb as if "none" or "neither" was not taking part in the verb choice.

The sentences are too long. -> None of the sentences are too long

A or B is the correct answer -> Neither A nor B is the correct answer.

5

As this answer to a related question on ELU indicates, the supposed "rule" that none is occasionally treated as plural, but it is usually regarded as singular should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Note that, for example, none of us is and none of us are both have about 1M hits in Google Books.


By the same token, as this answer to another relevant ELU question says, the pedantic corollary (that neither should always be considered singular too) is also widely flouted by competent native speakers.

Okay, there are 2-3 times as many instances of neither of us is as there are of neither of us are. But the supposedly "wrong" form still occurs 91,500 times, and I certainly see nothing wrong with it.


In short, it's meaningless to say none or neither are grammatically required to be treated as singular, given that native speakers don't consistently observe any such stricture. It really comes down to a stylistic choice in your given context; if you want to emphasise the "plurality/multiplicity" of the "pool" of items from which none or neither are selected, feel free to use the plural verb form.

  • In this case I'll go with 2-3x of the general English-speaking population. – Alan Carmack Sep 1 '16 at 14:38
  • @Alan: I imagine a substantial proportion of that "majority" are simply kowtowing to what pedantic grammarians told them. The implication of this chart is that (at least with neither) the trend is towards "defiance". Even more so in speech, I bet. But it's a stylistic choice, affected by specific context. – FumbleFingers Sep 1 '16 at 15:03
  • Yeah, that's your imagination all right. The chart says no increase in the minorty usage. – Alan Carmack Sep 1 '16 at 15:53
  • @Alan: I'm certainly not imagining that the plural usage went from less than 1 in 6 to more than 1 in 3 over the space of just three decades. In my book, that's a trend. – FumbleFingers Sep 1 '16 at 16:29
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This is English Language Learners, where many learners are preparing for exams of English. Such exams or the examiners who give them, are usually looking for formal grammar.

As the Oxford Learner's Dictionary says in its grammar point:

Neither of and either of are followed by a plural noun or pronoun and a singular or plural verb. A plural verb is more informal: Neither of my parents speaks/​speak a foreign language.

In other words, although native speakers do sometimes use a plural verb after neither of, the use of a singular verb is still the expected form in formal contexts, because that is the form taught in schools. And on any test of English as a foreign language, use the singular verb.

See also the most upvoted (and accepted) answer at ELU's Which is correct, "neither is" or "neither are"?

Besides that, to this speaker of American English, besides being more formal, the singular verb almost always sounds better and more eloquent than the plural.

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