No student(s) was/were present



I don't know which of the two is grammatically correct or both are correct or the difference if they are both grammatically correct. Please teach me a correct English.

No student was present.


No students were present.

Which of the two is grammatically correct in America and England?

suwon kim

Posted 2018-05-31T13:20:39.350

Reputation: 31



Both are grammatically correct, but it depends on the situation which one would be appropriate.

Generally speaking, we use the plural with everything except one, and no counts as not one.

No students were present.

There are, however, two exceptions. The first is if there could only possibly be one or zero. For example, when talking about the moon, we use the singular:

There was no moon last night.

So, if there were a university committee which normally had one student representative, it would be OK to say

There was no student [representative] present

The second is when we want to be emphatic: we can use the singular to emphasize that there was not one single.... So, if the teacher was disappointed to find that no student turned up, he or she could say

Not one single student was present
No student was present

Here is an idiomatic expression that is a good example of the use of the singular for emphasis:

to leave no stone unturned

Here is an example using almost the same phrasing as the question:

While no student was allowed to leave the schoolhouse, representatives of the press and other news media, on invitation of the school authorities, were permitted to enter the classrooms to observe the proceedings. We the Students: Supreme Court Cases for and About Students - James B Raskin, 2008


Posted 2018-05-31T13:20:39.350

Reputation: 43 538


Both are correct in US and British English. If one student was expected, or at least one student was required to be present, you might choose to use 'no student was present', and if more than one student was expected, you could use 'no students were present'. However, this is not a strict rule, and you can use either.

Michael Harvey

Posted 2018-05-31T13:20:39.350

Reputation: 31 750

@JavaLatte Would you categorize those uses you cited as emphatic, or perhaps even formal (the second one)? Here's another user corroborating the general rule.

– None – 2018-05-31T14:39:35.410

Disagree @JavaLatte. You could "expect" one and two could turn up. In any case, both are grammatically correct. – Astralbee – 2018-05-31T14:41:10.433