Sunday, November 17, 2019

A small rant...

Hey all, Robin here. I'm Michael's wife and I sometimes take control of his blog. This is one of those times. I'm going over the very last of the changes to Age of Death before sending it off to the printer. First, I should mention that I'm an engineer by training (MSEE), but I spent most of my life in software. I'm a "technical gal" Math was my favorite subject, Grammar very near the bottom. So, it's ironic that these days I spend an amazing amount of time on the Internet trying to determine things like which of the following is correct:

  • None of them were his friends. 
  • None of them was his friends. 
As an analytic type person, there should be a singular answer to such a question. But English is a language with all kinds of issues--don't get me started on why backyard is a single compound word, but front yard is two words.

Apparently, the problem arises in the fact that "none" is not always singular. Apparently, it used to mean "not one," so was would be correct. In practice, however, it is sometimes meant to mean "not any," so were should be used. 

To make matters worse, people who spend their lives contemplating such mystical matters don't always agree. Just look at this online debate on the subject.

And to make matters worse, there is the last statement. "It should be pointed out that none does not come from not any, but from nan (old English), which was used with either singular or plural verbs."

Argh!!!  All I want to know is which word do I use!!

And the worst part, no matter which one I select, there will people who will treat it as a "grammar mistake." In other words, I can't win either way.  For someone who deals in black and white such things are maddening. I guess I'll just insist that no book written by Michael will ever use such a sentence!


  1. My OCD and I use to struggle with this a couple of decades back when I actually wrote stuff regularly. All these years later, my advice is pretty much the same for just about anything in life: Do what feels right to you.

    That said, "were" is absolutely the correct choice and anything else is sheer lunacy. :)

  2. Hi Robin! As a fellow black/white ones and zeros personality, my secret for such potentialities is to ignore what other people 'think' is the correct way in these situations. :)

  3. Hi Robin,

    According to Grammarly it should be was not were. This is what it said: It appears that the indefinite pronoun None does not agree with the verb were in your sentence. Consider changing the form of the verb.

    Sorry to confuse you more!

  4. Hi Robin.

    I majored in English in college and then became a "technical gal" (systems developer/technical lead) for most of my 35-year career. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how much education you have on the topic; English is a difficult language.

    I am inclined to agree with Zeus's comment - at some point, you need to go with your gut. Either that, or change the sentence to something more comfortable to read, like: "He wasn't friends with any of them" and avoid the dilemma altogether!

    Thanks for the enjoyable post. At least now I understand why you are able to manage everything you do so well. "Technical" folks tend to be highly organized!

    Keep up the great work!


  5. Hi Robin.

    I have no expertise. But I enjoyed your rant so much that I give it five stars. Thanks for all the work that you both put into these books for the pleasure of us readers.

  6. Language is fluid. Use what feels right, conveys your meaning, and leave the rest up to the pendants.