Is 'Criteria' Singular or Plural?

Our Story
The Quick Answer
These days, you can treat "criteria" as singular if you wish, but it might irk your readers. The safest thing to do is treat it as plural, especially in formal writing.

Of note, the singular form "criterion" is still widely used, and this is why "criteria" is retaining its plural status more than words like "data" and "agenda."
criteria is or criteria are? (singular or plural?)
(This image from Google's Ngram Viewer shows that most people treat "criteria" as plural.)

Criteria (Singular or Plural?)

The word "criteria" is the Latin plural of "criterion." However, it does not follow that "criteria" is always treated as a plural word in modern English.

Is "Criteria" Singular or Plural?

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

As the word "criterion" is still in common use, "criteria" has retained its plural status far more than words like "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 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 clear. It has to be black.
    (This is acceptable, but it sounds unnatural. It also runs a risk of sounding pretentious.)
  • Her criterion is 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?
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 Treating collective nouns as singular or plural Collective nouns – singular or plural? Either – singular or plural? Agenda – singular or plural? Data – singular or plural? Media – singular or plural? List of easily confused words