In last night’s The Undoing, the character of Hugh Grant’s persnickety mother corrected Nicole Kidman for saying something like “none of them are going.”

She said “None IS going, dear. None is a contraction of no one, and therefore must be singular.”

None of that is right.

You can tell from the sentence I just wrote above that “none” is not merely an abbreviation of “no one” or “not one.” You can’t substitute either of those into my sentence without creating gibberish.  In that sentence it replaces or contracts “not any.” Even though “None of that is right” is correctly written in the singular, it is not because “none” means “no one” or “not one.” “None” is a completely separate word which can also replace “not any,” and the expression “not any” can be singular or plural depending on context (see rule three below).

Here is the rule for indefinite pronouns in American English, in three parts:

1. Always singular: each, either, neither, one, someone, somebody, anyone, anybody.

2. Always plural: several, few, both, many.

3. Either singular of plural depending on the prepositional phrase that follows or is implied: some, any, none, all and almost all.

Rule three examples:

With prepositional phrase stated:

“None of the milk is missing”; but “None of the elephants are missing.”

“All of the milk is missing”; but “All of the elephants are missing.”

With prepositional phrase implied:

“Were any batters truly successful against Koufax?”

“No, none were.”

“Are any elephants missing?”

“No, none are.”

Note that if you answer the baseball question with “nobody,” which would not take a qualifying prepositional phrase, the verb must be singular, per rule 1. “Nobody” is always singular, with no exceptions.

“Were any batters truly successful against Koufax?”

“Hell no! Nobody was.”

To get back to the original point, Ms. Kidman’s character was correct to say “None of them are going.” It is possible that the character of Hugh Grant’s mother was supposed to be English, and therefore unfamiliar with the conventions of American grammar, but in that case she had no business correcting an American. (I guess Kidman’s character is supposed to be an American. She dropped her Aussie accent, except for the word “your,” which she can’t master with an American accent.)