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Singular or plural? [Dec. 20th, 2005|12:11 pm]
Another drive-by posting, but this time a public one: is "data" singular or plural? This article suggests that not only "data" but also "criteria" is going down the path of singularity taken by "agenda".

When I take a purely gut-reaction view, "criteria" is clearly plural, "agenda" is clearly singular, and "data" is singular when I use it but I won't quibble about other people using it as plural. Isn't it odd that the words are so similar and yet my instinctive feeling about them is so different?

(See also linguistics is not prescriptive, which I think I may have linked to before.)

(PS: This post is not a poll.)

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[User Picture]From: _nicolai_
2005-12-20 02:00 pm (UTC)
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From: feanelwa
2005-12-20 06:55 pm (UTC)
Except when used as an abbreviation for "set of data".
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From: stephdairy
2005-12-21 06:48 pm (UTC)
And some datums, just for good measure.

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[User Picture]From: nou
2005-12-20 12:23 pm (UTC)
What's a "linguistic", then? It ain't a noun.
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From: mzdt
2005-12-20 12:19 pm (UTC)
off the top of my head I'd say that 'data' is any quantity; you might talk about 'a piece of data' but not 'a data'. 'the data' refers to whatever's there, like 'the water'.

an arrogant tw*t of a producer told me recently, when a presenter was talking about a single 'dice' that the use has changed and I shouldn't be so pedantic (just like apostrophes). He didn't like being wrong, that's all (admittedly most welcome my little grammatical corrections from the back of the gallery).
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[User Picture]From: nou
2005-12-20 12:24 pm (UTC)
an arrogant tw*t of a producer told me recently, when a presenter was talking about a single 'dice' that the use has changed

I'm not entirely sure that he was wrong.
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From: ewtikins
2005-12-20 12:20 pm (UTC)
I think of data as plural.

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[User Picture]From: sammoore
2005-12-20 12:49 pm (UTC)
Dear Kake,

Have a LJ comment.

I think data if the plural of datum.

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[User Picture]From: imc
2005-12-20 12:49 pm (UTC)
data is:
[X] singular
[X] plural

criteria is:
[ ] singular
[X] plural

agenda is:
[X] singular
[ ] plural

"Agenda" is Latin for "things to be done", but in English it refers to the list of things to be done rather than the things themselves. So Latin plural does not always equal English plural. There's no such justification for the singularisation of "criteria", however. "Data" is a bit of a grey area, since originally there was a well defined singular "datum". It doesn't fit well with today's usage, though, since "data" is "that which goes into a computation", so it's somewhat fluid (like water, as mzdt says). You still can't have "a data" (although you can have "a datum"), so it's not directly comparable to "a criteria".

(PS: this comment is a poll response)
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[User Picture]From: pne
2005-12-21 09:10 am (UTC)

For me, data is a mass noun which takes a plural verb, but I don't usually consider it to be a count noun (i.e., it's conceptually a mass of data, like "information", rather than a collection of discrete bits each called a "datum").

Random comment: when talking with my colleagues in German, I sometimes use the (non-standard) plural Datümer when talking about dates (i.e. points in time when something happens; singular: Datum), since the regular plural Daten also means "data". (And in German, as in English, Daten in the sense of "data" doesn't really have a singular.)
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[User Picture]From: pne
2005-12-21 09:11 am (UTC)
For me, data is a mass noun which takes a plural verb

Strike that.

It's definitely a mass noun for me, but I think it could take a singular verb, too: "The data is inconclusive".
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[User Picture]From: martling
2005-12-20 12:54 pm (UTC)
When you say "data" is singular, are you sure that's what you mean? I'm guessing you wouldn't say "a data" (singular), and I think most people wouldn't say "several data" (plural). Is it either?

In my experience, data seems to mostly be treated as a bulk term (not sure of the correct term for that, but the same thing mzdt meant about water) rather than the plural it initally was. "Data point" seems to have superseded "datum", and people are more likely to use "data points" as the plural for that if discussing e.g. particular sets of readings, rather than the more abstract concept of a bunch of experimentally gathered information.
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[User Picture]From: addedentry
2005-12-20 01:58 pm (UTC)
'Mass noun'. It's singular, like 'bread' and 'crockery' and 'liberty'. And 'opera', for pedantic Latinists who are still unhappy.
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[User Picture]From: owlfish
2005-12-20 12:59 pm (UTC)
Criteria, agenda, and data are all plural, but criteria is the only one I regularly use that way. I am fairly inconsistant about using data in English in the singular or plural - I do it both ways. I am much more consistant about using agenda in English as a singular.

I specify "in English" so much since I am entirely consistant in how I use them in Latin - and it's not the same as the way I use them in English.
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[User Picture]From: djm4
2005-12-20 01:09 pm (UTC)
I have a sentimental attachment to the concept of data being a plural word, because my mother dedicated her MSc thesis to 'My maths teacher, who taught me that data are plural'. And she, in turn, taught me.

Modern usage may have data as singular, but if I'm writing something where 'a datum' or 'some data' is likely to get copy-edited, I always write 'a dataset' and avoid the problem.
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[User Picture]From: bazzalisk
2005-12-20 01:18 pm (UTC)
Data is plural, so are agenda and criteria.
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[User Picture]From: shuripentu
2005-12-21 12:30 am (UTC)
My Canadian Oxford Dictionary lists "agenda" as singular, plural "agendas". The Latin root is plural, but it's probably been used as a singular noun (albeit one referring to a list or series of items of business) for so long that the plural usage has become all but obsolete.

"Data" is plural in my book, but can be used as singular when referring to a collection of data points. The use of a plural noun as a singular when referring to a list or collection strikes again.

"Criteria" is definitely plural. Criterion is still in common use as a singular noun, as it should be.
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[User Picture]From: rjw1
2005-12-20 01:53 pm (UTC)
pedantry leads to madness. which leads to the killing of bunnies. killing bunnies is wrong. if only mad people would kill humans
i suggest the wearing of purple not caring hats(tm) decorated with tinsel
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[User Picture]From: sashajwolf
2005-12-20 03:22 pm (UTC)
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-12-20 01:54 pm (UTC)

Ah, didda!

It might help to think set-theoretically. An element of data is a data point. An element of the agenda is a task. The Criterion is a theatre.

When datum is used idiomatically, for example in geodesy, its plural is datums. Also, the plural of criterium is criteriums. Does this help?

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[User Picture]From: claudacity
2005-12-20 02:00 pm (UTC)
it's like fish. 'cept you can't fry it.
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[User Picture]From: rjw1
2005-12-20 02:15 pm (UTC)
its quite easy to fry data.
take some wires and some electricity apply to your data. soon its nice and fried.

try it with gherkins too. they glow
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[User Picture]From: ewx
2005-12-20 02:57 pm (UTC)
I'd go with the mass noun interpretation, although there do seem to be some dialects where this isn't so.
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[User Picture]From: sugendran
2005-12-20 08:46 pm (UTC)
I work in data - the general consensus across the industry is that data is both singular and plural.. like sheep :)
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[User Picture]From: rjray
2005-12-20 10:26 pm (UTC)
is "data" singular or plural?


Take into account that usage is 99% of the law when it comes to words. Phrases like, "I'll gather all the data", and "I just need one more piece of data" are commonplace.
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[User Picture]From: perlmonger
2005-12-21 10:13 am (UTC)
This is an area where people's grammars differ, but the consensus is pretty clear. I personally tend to pedantry (I've neve actually been a member of CaRP, but the temptation has been there), but I acknowledge that (1) seeking "correctness" is a deep-if-not-infinite and ultimately pointless regress and (2) this one is a lost battle.

In English(2005), "data" is both singular and plural.
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[User Picture]From: hmmm_tea
2005-12-22 09:05 am (UTC)
I'm no linguist, but surely criteria is usually used as singular the same way as agenda is, ie:

What is your criteria?

Things fit a criteria?
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