Nobody, No One, and None: How to Choose the Right Word

Only 'none' can be either singular or plural

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The indefinite pronouns "nobody" and "no one" are often mixed up with the pronoun "none." The first two words are both singular pronouns and synonymous, but "none" can be either singular or plural.

How to Use "Nobody"

"Nobody" is an indefinite pronoun, meaning it does not refer to any particular person. It means the same thing as "no person" or "not anyone." As an indefinite pronoun that refers to an absence, "nobody" also has no defined amount. Grammatically, though, it is treated as a singular noun: Nobody was there to open the door.

How to Use "No One"

"No one" is also an indefinite pronoun, and it means the same thing as "nobody." It is usually considered more formal than "nobody," which is why it is more likely to appear in writing.

"Noone" is a common misspelling of "no one," which is two words. "No-one"—with a hyphen—is a less common spelling, typically found in British English.

How to Use "None"

The pronoun "none" means not one, not any, or no persons or things. As an adverb, "none" means not at all or to no extent.

There's a common misconception that "none" can only be singular, but this has never been true. When "none" is the subject of a clause and refers to members of a group, it can be used with either a singular verb ("None is") or a plural verb ("None are"). "None" must be followed by a singular verb only when it means "not part of a whole," as in "None of it is mine."

Examples

"Nobody and "no one" are basically interchangeable; the main difference between the two is the degree of formality:

  • No one is ever too old to learn something new.
  • Nobody wants to sign up for cleanup duties.

"None" means the same thing as "not one" or "not any," which is why it's often found in reference to groups:

  • None of the other apples are as good as the Honeycrisp.
  • None of the guests has any idea what to bring to the party.

In the first example, "none" takes the plural verb "are" because it is used in the sense of "not any" (Not any of the other apples are as good as the Honeycrisp). In the second example, "none" takes the singular verb "has" because it is used in the sense of "not one" (Not one of the guests has any idea what to bring to the party). If you're using the word "none" and you aren't sure if it should take a singular or a plural verb, try replacing "none" with "not any" or "not one" to determine in which sense it's being used.

Wilson Follett, the author of the style guide "Modern American Usage," wrote that choosing the right verb for "none" is always a matter of context:

"The fact is that in some contexts none means not a single one, making singularity emphatic, whereas in other contexts it means no two, no few, no several, no fraction of many. In None of us is entitled to cast the first stone the singular meaning is hardly mistakable; in None of the commentators agree on the meaning of this passage the plural meaning is equally clear. None, then, is freely either singular or plural according to the sense suggested by its context. Often the number we give it makes no difference."

How to Remember the Differences

"Nobody" and "no one" always refer to people. If you're struggling to decide which one you should write, you can relax. Either one will do, so stick with whichever sounds best.

"None" can refer to people or inanimate objects. This word always points to another noun or nouns in a sentence, which is why you often see the construction "none of the [noun]," as in:

  • None of the guests enjoyed the meal.

"None" is the appropriate word in this case because it points to the noun "guests." Without the noun "guests," the sentence would require an indefinite pronoun such as "nobody" or "no one" instead:

  • No one enjoyed the meal.

Sources

  • Follett, Wilson. Modern American Usage: A Guide. Hill and Wang, 1998, p. 205.
  • Partridge, Eric. Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, pp. 207-208.