LawProse Lesson 429: Is “none are” acceptable?

LawProse Lesson 429: Is “none are” acceptable?

You occasionally hear someone say that none requires a singular verb: None is there, never None are there. Is that right?

Unequivocally no. For more than 1,200 years, English speakers and writers have said none are—especially in sentences like None of them are, where the subject is None (not them). In fact, None of them are is more than twice as common in modern print as None of them is.

The pedants’ argument is that none is a contraction of not one, and etymologically that’s pretty much true. But you must go way back in history for that. By the 1600s, the plural usage was more common, and it has stayed that way. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes the noted writers John Dryden, Henry Fielding, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, and Somerset Maugham using the plural none.

And for goodness’ sake, the U.S. Supreme Court has published opinions saying None of them were not once or twice, but 49 times!

The conventional view of true usage experts, as opposed to armchair grammarians, is that both none is and none are should be considered correct. None is expresses a greater degree of emphasis, and it’s more formal; None are is more usual and relaxed.

This is nothing new. Here’s what respected, linguistically conservative commentators have said:

H.W. Fowler (1926): “It is a mistake to suppose that the pronoun is singular only & must at all costs be followed by singular verbs &c.; the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] explicitly states that the plural construction is commoner.”

George Philip Krapp (1927): “Usage justifies none also as a plural, as in There were hundreds of people on the boat, but none were hurt. If the singular idea is to be emphasized, the usual form is not one, not a single one.”

Wilson Follett (1966): “Obviously none should be given a plural verb wherever a singular one would produce awkwardness. Contortion and absurdity result when . . . an invariable singular fights with plain sense, as in None of these authorities agrees with one another.”

William Safire (1982): “Sometimes you should say none is, and at other times you should say none are. The real question is—how many or how much do you mean by none? . . . It makes sense to say not one when you mean not one, and not to fuzz up the atmosphere: Let none stand as a collective noun to be construed as plural.”

Kenneth G. Wilson (1993): “None is and long has been either singular or plural. None of this is mine and None of these are mine are both Standard.”

Chicago Manual of Style (2017): “A guideline: if [none] is followed by a singular noun, treat it as a singular {none of the building was painted}; if by a plural noun, treat it as a plural {none of the guests were here when I arrived}.”

The authorities taking this view could easily be multiplied. What about contrary authorities? None are to be found.

Additional reading: Garner’s Modern English Usage 749 (5th ed. 2022).

Live seminars this year with Professor Bryan A. Garner: Advanced Legal Writing & Editing

Attend the most popular CLE seminar of all time. More than 215,000 people—including lawyers, judges, law clerks, and paralegals—have benefited since the early 1990s. You'll learn the keys to professional writing and acquire no-nonsense techniques to make your letters, memos, and briefs more powerful.

You'll also learn what doesn't work and why—know-how gathered through Professor Garner's unique experience in training lawyers at the country's top law firms, state and federal courts, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies.

Professor Garner gives you the keys to make the most of your writing aptitude—in letters, memos, briefs, and more. The seminar covers five essential skills for persuasive writing:

  • framing issues that arrest the readers' attention;
  • cutting wordiness that wastes readers' time;
  • using transitions deftly to make your argument flow;
  • quoting authority more effectively; and
  • tackling your writing projects more efficiently.

He teaches dozens of techniques that make a big difference. Most important, he shows you what doesn't work—and why—and how to cultivate skillfulness.

Register to reserve your spot today.

Have you wanted to bring Professor Garner to teach your group? Contact us at for more information about in-house seminars.

Scroll to Top