The Language Perfectionist: Tricky Singulars and Plurals

I was amazed to read this sentence in a major newspaper: “Today the criteria is simple: total unit sales.”

Of course, criteria should be criterion. The first is plural; the second singular. And if you intend the plural, it’s criteria are, not criteria is.

Most English words are turned into plurals simply by adding -s or -es. But a few words with Latin roots are trickier. The following examples of such misuses were found online:

  • “Social media is good for employees.”
  • “People learned several years ago that data is more valuable than applications or hardware….”

The words media and data are plurals, and should be followed by are. The corresponding singular forms are medium and datum.

The use of media and data as singular is increasingly common and accepted. But unless the result reads or sounds awkward or confusing, it makes sense to respect the traditional rules.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]
  • John F. Tashjian

    Mr. Hauptman:

    With thanks for this article on singulars and plurals in the English language, I cannot begin to tell you how many times I came across some of these, or similar, problems in my tenure as an English tutor. Usually, I came across such errors in essays written by Spanish-speaking students from Latin American countries (Mexico, more often than not).

    Please, keep fighting the good fight.