None of us understands this word — or understand it

A front-page story in The New York Times on Sunday included this sentence:

Somehow, none of the Marines were hit in the secondary ambush.

I got stuck on “none.” I expected “was” to follow, as in “not one Marine was hit.”

Whether “none” is followed with a singular or plural verb is a matter of debate. Some people in high places think that it’s always singular, but is that so?

Here’s what the AP Stylebook advises:

It usually means no single one. When used in this sense, it always takes singular verbs and nouns: None of the seats was in its right place. Use a plural verb only if the sense is no two or no amount: None of the consultants agree on the same approach.

In other words, it depends. One solution to this problem is to dodge the issue and rewrite the sentence:

Somehow, no Marines were hit in the secondary ambush.

Can we all agree on that?

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One thought on “None of us understands this word — or understand it

  1. I like your rewrite; it’s clearer, succinct, and avoids the none were/was dilemma.

    To my ear, though, plural Marines with singular “was” sounds odd. I copyedit for a magazine that doesn’t follow AP style, so the singular isn’t ingrained in my mind.

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