Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How to waste a ton of time with grammatical questions

At the airport this morning, when looking for WiFi to check my email, I got this message on my screen:

"None of your preferred networks are available."

Which led me to click my tongue at the screen.  My dad had always enforced a None Is Singular rule in our house growing up, and since he was a teacher and a strict grammarian I followed suit.

In order to vet my judgement, I looked up the word in the dictionary (or, more accurately, my dictionary widget) and found out that according to the Oxford American Dictionary's usage paragraph, 'none' can take either a singular or plural verb, depending on the 'context and emphasis needed.'

Well, that's just no way to please a grammar nerd, we need rules!  That's what helps to give order to this chaotic amalgam of a language, and by extension, our lives!

So then I googled the subject.  As with every argument under the sun, there are extensive discussions online about whether or not 'none' should be singular or plural.  There are posts favoring each side, some informed and reasoned, some angry and vitriolic.  I read all of these, all the while knowing that the answer is 'both' but hoping that someone could make a convincing argument one way or another.

And this is why I can't get a smart phone.  There are times when internet access is bad, and wasting 20 minutes of daylight on a grammar discussion is one of them.  The sun is shining, I need to go outside.

Right after I check my myspace.

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At 4:10 PM, Blogger DeliriumWartner said...

What's the plural of 'none' then, in the "strict" sense?

At 5:08 PM, Blogger Jude said...

I corrected a colleague's use of "if I was" which was slightly stressful because he's an English teacher. As a librarian, I was pleased by your search terms in Google--good use of keywords. I subscribe to this blog in bloglines, and it says you have one subscriber--me. The last time I checked the Pachelbel Rant video, it had over 4 million views. That's some weird discrepancy.

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Paul Walker said...

The source that always comes up when I search for grammar rules like these, http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/were.html says that either way is correct. I've always used the plural form for count nouns and the singular for mass nouns, but I certainly was never taught this.
This means that 'None of your preferred networks are available' would line up with my usage, but so would 'None of the water is left'. I hope this doesn't confuse you further!

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Atka Kevlarsjäl said...

Then, just imagine when non-English speakers as me have to learn English grammar ;)At least both options are right here, so less problems :)

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Robin said...

I love you, man. (More than I already did.) This is exactly the sort of thing I would do, just to prove it to myself. I've always been a bit of a word nerd, but it definitely hit its peak in college after three years of studying Latin. It's really good to know that we're not alone.

And, yes, I adhere to the none-is-singular rule, as well.

At 9:05 PM, Blogger Amy said...

I've always had people mess with me for being a "grammar nazi." I've corrected people on the correct use of the word "none", and whether or not it's plural or singular in certain situations. This can be a quick end to a conversation, I discovered.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Gushi said...

Hrmmm, this feels like it should go congruently with the "less/fewer" rules. For something in this context, you want "none *were* found" (after all, "none was found" sounds off)...but like your other commenter points out, something non-quantative, like "none of the water" makes sense.


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