ENGLISCH/812: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (148) plural or singular (SB)


148. Is data or are data?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

...Now my question: In two different books I found either "data are stored" or "data is stored". Which is correct? ...

Milan Recoplan (Bucharest)


Dear Mr Recoplan

Strictly speaking the word data is a plural form. It is the latin plural of the word datum. So formally it should have a plural verb. The correct form should be: "data are stored".

But in fact we don't use the word datum as a singular form in English, so English people mostly say: data is stored. Although some other people who are very careful with the language get irritated by this usage.

There are a lot of plurals ending with the letter "A" which are not recognized as plurals. One example is the word "media" meaning the media of mass communication such as newspapers, radio and television or computer networks of course. Each of those is a medium of mass communication. Together they are media (again latin plural) and so it is correct to use a plural verb. But some speakers don't recognize "media" as a plural form, which is why very often we hear: "the media is".

Another word which is difficult in its plural is: "criterion", this time a greek word which is used in English to mean a standard. The plural of "criterion" is "criteria", because greek words ending in ION have plural ending in the letter "A", criteria. Again in every days English we often hear: "the criteria is", which is widely used but not correct, because "criteria are".

And now on this medium of mass communication I hope you got all the data

Mrs Gobbledygook

27. Oktober 2008