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Verb agreement with none

Question:

Should I use the verb has or have in the following sentence?

  • None of the missing items has/have been found.

Answer:

Either verb would be possible.

The verb must agree with the subject none (and not with items, which is the object of the preposition of). Grammar books used to insist that none was always a singular pronoun (like the Old English word for one, from which it was formed). However, most sources today accept the use of none with either a singular or a plural meaning. The choice of verb now depends on the context.

None referring to a singular or non-count noun

If none refers to a singular or non-count noun (usually found in a prepositional phrase after none), then it is automatically singular in meaning and needs a singular verb:

  • None of the cake has been eaten.
    • [none refers to the singular noun cake]

  • None of the money is missing.
    • [none refers to the non-count noun money]

None referring to a plural noun

When none refers to a plural noun, it may take either a singular or a plural verb, depending on the sentence and the intentions of the writer.

If you want to stress that none means not one, use a singular verb:

  • None of the missing items has been found.

  • None of the researchers was able to pinpoint the cause of the disease.

  • None of these job applicants is a relative of mine.
    • [Here, the plural would not fit with the singular noun relative.]

But when your focus is on the whole group of items or persons, use a plural verb (the usual choice):

  • None of the missing items have been found.

  • None of those tickets were stamped.

  • None of these artists paint with their hands.
    • [Here, the singular would not fit with the plural pronoun their.]