Data (Singular or Plural?)

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The Quick Answer
The word "data" is best described as in transition from a plural word to a singular one. So, if you naturally treat "data" as singular, then stick with that. However, it is still acceptable to treat "data" as plural.

If you need a plural form, use "data sets."
data is or data are? (singular or plural?)
(This image from Google's Ngram Viewer shows that "data" is treated as both singular and plural.)

Is "Data" Singular or Plural

The word "data" is the Latin plural form of "datum." However, nowadays, it can safely be treated as a singular noun. In fact, for many people, treating "data" as plural is starting to sound a little pretentious.

"Data Is" or "Data Are"?

Here are two definitions for the word "data:

(1) Details, facts, and statistics collected for reference or analysis.
(2) Information electrically stored in, operated on, or transmitted by computers.

In the early 1900s, "data" was considered a plural word, and treating it as singular was viewed as uneducated. However, almost certainly due to the drop-off of Latin from the school curriculum, "data" has started to morph into a singular word. These two sentences now sound fine to the majority of native English speakers:
  • My data is corrupted.
  • The data supports my theory.
However, treating "data" as a plural is still common, and those who work with data (e.g., researchers, analysts, academics) are the most likely to retain its plural status. Nevertheless, for many people, the following sound awkward:
  • My data were corrupted.
  • (We have marked this wrong because we think it sounds awkward. Have your say in the poll below.)
  • The data support my theory.
  • (Awkward)

Comparing "Data" to "Agenda" and "Criteria"

The word "agenda" is the Latin plural of "agendum," but almost no one treats it as plural. In modern English, it is treated as singular with the plural form "agendas." Conversely, the word "criteria" (the Latin plural of "criterion") is treated as plural because, unlike "agendum," its singular form is still in common usage.

If this were the precedent for whether "data" should be singular or plural, then it should be singular because "datum" has - for all intents and purposes - fallen out of the language.

Read more about "agenda" being singular or plural.
Read more about "criteria" being singular or plural.

Have Your Say

Personally, I treat "data" as singular, and I agree with those who think "the data are" or "the data show" sounds awkward, even pretentious. However, I am mindful of my bias, particularly as the image above shows that, despite being on the decline, "data are" is still more common than "data is." So, here's a poll, the results of which will be revealed once you've voted:

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

See more unusual plurals. Take a test on plurals. Data – singular or plural? Media – singular or plural? Criteria – singular or plural? More about plurals More about forming the plurals of nouns Subject-verb agreement