Monthly Archives: February 2011

Why we need hyphens

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Feb. 25, 2011.

One of the regular features we do on Twitter is “Why we need hyphens”: phrases that have different meanings depending on whether there’s a hyphen. These usually occur when a noun has a compound modifier, that is, a modifier that is made up of more than one word.

The classic example of this is “small-business owner” vs. “small business owner.” Is the owner of a business diminutive, or is the business itself small? Depends on the hyphen.

Some other examples of why we need hyphens:

Because a heavy-equipment operator is not the same as a heavy equipment operator.

Because hazardous-materials training is not the same as hazardous materials training.

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None of the above

Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Feb. 3, 2011.

People have asked whether “none” is a singular or plural, and occasionally we’ve had readers write in to complain that we’ve used it wrong.

The good news is that “none” can be both singular and plural. The bad news is that the distinction can get a little squishy.

To put it as simply as possible:

If you mean “none” as “not any of it,” use a singular:
None of the tuna-noodle casserole was eaten. One casserole, “it.”
After the Ebola outbreak, none of the lab remains. One lab, “it.”
None of the homework is done. One concept, “it.”

But if you mean “none” as “not any of them,” use a plural:
None of the casseroles at the potluck were eaten. Several casseroles, “them.”
After the Ebola outbreak, none of the technicians are still alive. Many technicians, “them.”
None of the students are done with their homework. Many students, “them.”

We hope none of the confusion remains, and none of you are confused.