English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Today I came across the following sentence:

We asked for help and were given none.

It feels and sounds right to me. However, after decomposing none into not one, it becomes apparent that you can't have one help in this context. So is none the right word to use originally?

If so, what does that say for the none = not one equivalence? If not, then what is a better way to phrase it?

share|improve this question
Help is also used as plural noun, though. – kiamlaluno Jan 27 '11 at 13:21
People who insist that none is equivalent to "not one" also use it to claim that none must be used only with singular verb agreement, which also doesn't agree with the facts. The domain of none overlaps with that of "not one", but none is still a separate entity. – Kosmonaut Jan 27 '11 at 13:44
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Using none in the example sentence is correct.

When none is used with countable nouns, it means not one. However, none can also be used with uncountable nouns, in which case it means not any.

share|improve this answer
can you give an example sentence of "none" being used with uncountable nouns . – Geek Oct 19 '12 at 7:17

About using a plural or a singular verb with none, the NOAD reports:

It is sometimes held that none can take only a singular verb, never a plural verb: none of them is coming tonight, rather than none of them are coming tonight. There is little justification, historical or grammatical, for this view.
None is descended from Old English nān, meaning not one, and has been used for around a thousand years with both a singular and a plural verb, depending on the context and the emphasis needed.

I would rather write the sentence you reported as

We asked for help and none was given us.

As for the equivalence between none and not one, the meaning of none is not any, no person, or no one when used as pronoun, and by no amount, not at all when used as adverb and it is followed by the definite article.

Don't use any more water, or there'll be none left for me.
None could match her looks.
It is made none the easier by the differences in approach.

Replace none with not one in the first sentence, and you get a sentence that is not correct.

(*) Don't use any more water, or there'll be not one left for me.

share|improve this answer
But by decomposing your preferred sentence: "We asked for help and not one was given us", the same problem occurs: it's a report on "one help." I don't think you answered the question. – Kaz Dragon Jan 27 '11 at 13:19
See the last part of my answer where I explain that, although none means also not one, you cannot simply replace none with not one. – kiamlaluno Feb 3 '11 at 16:52

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.