Commonly Confused Words: Nobody, None, and No One

When to Use Each

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The indefinite pronouns nobody (one word) and no one (two words) have the same meaning: no person or not anyone.*

The pronoun none means nobody, not one, not any, or no persons or things.

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

  • "The reality is that no one is too old, too smart, or too successful to learn something new."
    (John C. Maxwell, Winning With People, 2007)
  • "I am not altogether on anybody's side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays." (Treebeard in The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien)
     
  • "Early apples begin to be ripe about the first of August; but I think none of them are so good to eat as some to smell."
    (Henry David Thoreau, "Wild Apples," 1862)
     
  • "On the fourth day of the fifth month they've all arrived at the Place of the Sacrifice. None of them is ever late."
    (Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind, 2012)
     
  • "[P]erhaps none of the guests has a song in his heart, because it's a farewell dinner held on the eve of a cross-country move."
    (Edith Hazard, Singing for Your Supper, 1996)
     
  • "Thankfully, none of the guests have actually laid eyes on a dead chicken; that image would be hard to shake." (Laura Resau, The Jade Notebook, 2012)

Usage Notes

  • "Despite what you were taught and what you may hear from certain soi-disant usage mavens, none with a plural verb is good English, and in fact more common in educated usage. Many authorities have noticed this, unfortunately to little avail.

    "In short, it is idle to impose a strict rule that none must at all times be used with a singular verb because it is supposed to mean 'not one.' More often than not, none means 'not any': ​None of the answers were right. Occasionally none means 'no part,' and when it does and the noun that follows none is singular, use a singular verb: None of the debt has been paid. But when the noun that follows none is plural, a plural verb is always better: None of the weapons of mass destruction have been found. And if your specific meaning is 'not one' you should use those words instead: Not one of the seats was in its right place."
  • (Charles H. Elster, What in the Word? Harvest, 2005)
     
  • (i) "When none = not one, use the singular, as in 'None of the newspapers has appeared this week.'
    (ii) "When none = no one, no person, nobody, the singular is correct, but, as indeed for (i) also, the plural is not regarded as a solecism; in both (1) and (ii), the plural is merely an infelicity, a defect that will not hinder the good-enoughists.
    (iii) "When none = no persons, the verb is plural, as in 'None have been so greedy of employments . . . as they who have least deserved their stations' (Dryden). The corresponding singular pronoun is no one (based on OED)."
    (Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English, rev. by Janet Whitcut, 1994. W.W. Norton, 1995)
     
  • None in Context
    "Some newspapers lay down a rule that none is to be treated as a singular at all times. Lexicographers, who know as well as journalists that none = no one, point out that modem usage more commonly treats it as a plural meaning no ones, as does colloquial speech. Literature shows both usages and no clear preference. Both [American and British] seem evenhanded in the singular and plural usage. . . .

    "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. . . .

    "Obviously none should be given a plural verb wherever a singular one would produce awkwardness."
    (Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage: A Guide, rev. by Erik Wensberg. Hill and Wang, 1998)

    *  Quirk et al. regard "the pronouns in -one . . . as more elegant than those in -body" (A Comprehensive Grammar, 1985).

    Practice

    (a) "Bears and wolves are numerous in the upper parts of the coast, but there were _____ in our immediate neighborhood."
    (Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast)

    (b) "In this wax image there was _____ of her patience, _____ of her understanding and sympathy, _____ of her kindness, _____ of her dignity. "
    (Wallace Stegner, The Big Rock Candy Mountain)

    (c) _____ is responding to the needs of the public.

    Answers to Practice Exercises:

    (a) "Bears and wolves are numerous in the upper parts of the coast, but there were none in our immediate neighborhood."
    (Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast)

    (b) "In this wax image there was none of her patience, none of her understanding and sympathy, none of her kindness, none of her dignity."
    (Wallace Stegner, The Big Rock Candy Mountain)

    (c) Nobody [or No one] is responding to the needs of the public.