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...none of them was going to Malory Towers.

This is taken from a story book, Enid Blyton - Malory Towers I think, and a pupil at school queried this with me. I can see her point, "were" sounds better (instead of was) but which is correct?

marked as duplicate by Janus Bahs Jacquet, Edwin Ashworth, Sven Yargs, ScotM, Misti Jul 1 '15 at 12:46

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  • I'm guessing it's from the fact that "none" really means "not one"... and if it said "not one of them were going" it would sound odd... so we use "none of them was going" because it's actually saying "not one of them was going". – Catija Jun 30 '15 at 17:54
  • Yes, I think if it was singular it would have to be 'was' (not one was going). However, it's clearly the plural in this case so I feel that 'were' would be more correct - using 'was' with 'them' is wrong I suspect. – Charon Jun 30 '15 at 17:57
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    @Okoning But "Only one of them was going to the ball." is perfectly correct. – Catija Jun 30 '15 at 18:10
  • @Catija Agreed. That's what I was trying to say: in the singular case (i.e., in the case of one) 'was' is correct. – Charon Jun 30 '15 at 20:55

"none of them was" is correct as "none", when it stands for not-one, is considered to be singular. I think the confusion arises due to placement of "was" next to "them"; but "none" remains the subject in the sentence.

  • Not that I disagree but can you support the statement that "none" is singular with a source? – Catija Jun 30 '15 at 18:27
  • I don't exactly remember but I think I read it in S&W. – piyush_sao Jun 30 '15 at 18:44
  • If you read it in Strunk & White, you’re quite likely to definitely need other sources to back it up—a lot of what Strunk & White say is complete hogwash that they don’t even follow themselves. As the accepted answer in the question marked as an almost-duplicate in my comment above shows, both singular and plural are used with none of, and both are equally fine. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 30 '15 at 18:46
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    I'm just about the sharpest marble in the bag... but when you say, 'none' is the subject, I wonder why 'them' is not the subject? In which case "were" would be appropriate as it applies to all of 'them' a grouping of individual- even though "None of them..." refers, like you said, to 'not one of them'. I would still personally say, "not one of them were going..." To add to this thought, if you replaced 'them' with another defining group such as 'the boys', it would read, "none of the boys were going..." – MegaMark Jun 30 '15 at 18:46
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    @MegaMark Them is the object of the preposition of and can thus never be the actual subject. The subject is the entire noun phrase none of them. The prepositional phrase of them is embedded in the noun phrase, in which none is the head; and the head of a phrase can (nearly) always stand in as a substitute for the entire phrase. Thus, if you want to simplify the subject and get rid of unnecessary words, the subject would be none: “None was…”. Doing the opposite yields “Them was…”, which is utterly ungrammatical in more or less all variants of English. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 30 '15 at 18:53

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