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Pronouns - singular or plural?

You have to be careful picking the right verb to use with some pronouns, especially indefinite pronouns (ones that don’t refer to a specific person or thing). Take this sentence as an example:

None of the dinosaurs were larger than a blue whale.

In this case, the indefinite pronoun ‘none’ takes a plural verb ‘were’. In this case, ‘none’ can be thought of as ‘not any’:

Not any of the dinosaurs were larger than a blue whale.

However, it can also take a singular verb, like in this sentence:

Jeremy told me that none of the paint was suitable.

When ‘none’ is used to describe a non-countable noun like ‘paint’, it often has a singular verb with it, like ‘was’ in this sentence. In the previous sentence, ‘dinosaurs’ is a countable noun - you can count how many ‘dinosaurs’ you have. However, you can’t count how many ‘paint’ you have.

Other pronoun problems can arise when you don’t know whether the subject of a sentence is the pronoun or the noun it represents:

Each of the tables is to be set up on the grass.

In this sentence you might think that ‘tables’ is the subject, and choose a plural verb form of the ‘to be’ verb - ‘are’. However, the actual subject in this sentence is the pronoun ‘each’, not ‘tables’. ‘Each’ is a singular pronoun, so it needs the singular verb - ‘is’. One way you can check this is to remove the ‘of the tables’ part from the sentence and see if it still makes grammatical sense:

Each is to be set up on the grass.

Yep! We don’t know what it is that is being set up now, but it’s still grammatically correct.