Agenda, Data, Criteria, and Media (Singular or Plural?)

by Craig Shrives
The Quick Answer
Treat agenda as singular. The plural form is agendas.

Treat data as singular. If you need a plural form, use wording like data sets.

These days, you can treat criteria as singular if you wish, but it might irk your readers, so treat it as plural. The singular form criterion is widely used, and this is why criteria has retained its plural status.

As media is a collective noun, you can treat it as singular or plural depending on the sense of your sentence.

Agenda, Data, Criteria, and Media (Singular or Plural?)

The words agenda, data, criteria, and media are the Latin plural forms of agendum, datum, criterion, and medium. However, it does not follow that they are all treated as plural words in modern English.

Is Agenda Singular or Plural?

The word agenda usually means a list of items of business to be considered or addressed. It is the plural form of the Latin word agendum.

Over time, the word agenda has shed all signs of its "plural" past. In modern English, it is treated as a singular word. It has the plural form agendas. For example:
  • The agenda is on the second page.
  • All the agendas are displayed on the screen.
  • My father taught me how to be a man – and not by instilling in me a sense of machismo or an agenda of dominance. He taught me that a real man doesn’t take, he gives; he doesn't use force, he uses logic; doesn’t play the role of trouble-maker, but rather, trouble-shooter; and most importantly, a real man is defined by what'sn his heart, not his pants. (Kevin Smith).

Is Data Singular or Plural?

The word data refers to details, facts and statistics collected for reference or analysis or information electrically stored in, operated on, or transmitted by computers.

Data is the plural of datum. In the past (and still in the occasional scientific institution), data was treated as plural. For example:
  • My data were corrupted. (outdated)
  • The data are collated by the researchers. (outdated)
These days, data is treated as a singular noun. For example:
  • My data is corrupted.
  • The data is collated by the researchers.
In modern English, data is classified as an abstract noun (just like the word information).

Is Criteria Singular or Plural?

Criteria are the principles or standards against which something is evaluated.

Criteria is the plural form of the word criterion. As the word criterion is still in common use, criteria has retained its plural status far more than data and agenda. That said, it is still common to see criteria treated as a singular word both in speech and writing. Here's the dynamic:
  • Her criteria is very clear. It has to be black.
    (This is acceptable, but it might annoy some of your readers who would prefer the version below.)
  • Her criteria are very clear. It has to be black.
    (This is acceptable, but it sounds unnatural. It also runs a risk of sounding pretentious.)
  • Her criterion is very clear. It has to be black.
    (This is correct, but it also runs a slight risk of sounding pretentious.)
The safest option is to use criterion when talking about a single standard. When talking about more than one criterion, you can only use criteria, and the safest option is to treat this as plural. For example:
  • Are the criteria available to read? What is the main criterion?

Is Media Singular or Plural?

Media refers to those who message through television, radio, the printed press or the electronic "press" (i.e., the internet).

As the word media comes from the Latin plural of medium, lots of your readers will expect you to treat media as a plural noun. However, even though media can be treated as a plural noun, its derivation (i.e., being the plural of medium) is only part of the reason why media can be treated as plural.

The word media can be treated as a singular word or a plural word. This is because it is a collective noun (just like the words team and jury). Example:
  • The media are going to be present.
  • The media is going to be present.
So, you have a choice. The sense of your sentence should determine whether you treat media as singular or plural. (Note: In American English, there is a leaning towards treating all collective nouns as singular. Brits tend to go with what sounds most natural for them.)

Read more about treating collective nouns as singular or plural.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Unusual plurals Collective nouns – singular or plural? Either/or – singular or plural?