Is it “None of them know the answer” or “None of them knows the answer”?
Recently, a summer associate asked whether the indefinite pronoun none was singular or plural. She asked because she wasn’t sure which form of verb to use with it, singular or plural. I suggested that she think of none as not one, and that quickly resolved the issue.
Indefinite pronouns by definition reference nonspecific things or people. Most of these pronouns take a singular verb, some are always plural, and a few may be either singular or plural. Take a look at the lists below, and you’ll notice that most indefinite pronouns are singular.
Singular: another, anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, many a, neither, no one, nobody, nothing, one, other, somebody, someone
Plural: both, few, many, others, several
Singular or Plural: all, any, none, some, such
“None” creates so much confusion but, like he pointed out, it can be used both as a singular or plural form. So both are correct. You might also want to check “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr.
Take out the prepositional phrase to see what object the verb is referring to. So in this one: “of them” is the prepositional phrase and “know” is referring to “None” so read it as: “None know the answer” to see if it still makes sense.
“of them” is a preposition.
“None” is the subject and is singular.
Therefore read the sentence as if it said “None knows the answer.” or No one instead of none.
The first one would be correct if it read “They do not know they answer.” because They would be the subject.
trying to emphasize the idea of “not one”, or if the words that
follow work better in the singular.
So, I’ll go for:
None of them know the answer.
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