An English tutoring column by Ralph Schatzki who would like you to join him
in the task of saving the language, step-by-step, word-by-word, one person at a time.
One or more? This is the question for today's topic. Come and help Ralph Schatzki save
English one word at a time.
One or More?
It is usually clear when a word is singular (one) or plural (more than one).
For instance, "boat" is singular and "houses" is plural, so "the boat is big"
and "the houses are big."
Of course, there are some more interesting cases.
You can have one "fish," and if you have ten of the same kind of fish you
would say you have ten "fish," but if you have five goldfish (not "goldfishes,"
since they're all the same) and five trout you would say you have ten "fishes,"
since they are not all the same kind.
That's not what this article is about, though. Instead, it addresses a couple
of words which are often confused for plural when, in fact, they are not.
These are the words "each" and "none."
"Each" means "being one of two or more distinct individuals having a relation."
As it is "one" and an "individual," clearly "each" is singular:
"Each student is going to give a report,"
"each student are going to give a report."
Still, in English the noun is often implicit, so (in this example) the word
"student" might be dropped, and this is when the trouble begins. If it's
"Each student is...", then it should be "each is...." but this is often not
the case, and one will hear "each are going to give a report."
This is plainly incorrect.
"None" is a similiar word, in that people mistake it for plural.
It is a contraction of the two words, "no one," and is patently
singular, yet people more often than not, it seems, say "none are."
If you were asked,
"How many of your neighbors are serial killers?"
you might answer "not one (or no one) of them is."
You wouldn't say, "not one of them are," because "one" is singular.
If you use the word "none" in place of "no one," then,
the proper statement is
"none of them is."
(By the way, "everyone" is singular, too!)
Of course, none of these rules is unbendable.
Each is subject to dialect, convention, and to the natural evolution
of the language. Everyone uses the language as he sees fit.
A proofreader, editor, author, math teacher and tutor, professional opera singer, ex-lawyer (by his own choice), sports fan, husband and
father. He has lived on both American coasts, as well as in the southwest and midwest, and overseas in Thailand for more than thirteen
years. He loves to read, write and perform, to watch sports, and to spend time with his family.
If you are pleased with this column,
please treat us to a cup of Joe!