12 February 2013

Language Lessons: None was or None were?

This is one in a series of posts about the peculiarities of writing and speaking the English language. For similar posts, click here.

In the Supreme Court case of Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001), Justice Souter wrote:

"None of them was wearing a seatbelt."

There is conflicting opinion about "none was" and "none were." Some say none should always be used with a singular verb (reading none as not one). Others say to look at the object of the preposition to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. Here, them is plural, so were would have been appropriate. Yet others say singular objects should get singular verbs, and plural objects can get either singular or plural verbs.

Confused yet?

I have an inquiry into Bryan Garner to see what he thinks. If and when he responds, I'll update this post.

Update: Here's what Bryan Garner said:

For what it's worth, "None of them was wearing a seatbelt" sounds awkward to me. I would rewrite it: "None of them were wearing seatbelts."

What do you think?
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