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False Singulars

Chapter:
Grammar
Author(s):

Stacy Christiansen

False Singulars

A few plural nouns are used so often in the singular that they are often paired with a singular verb.

The agenda has been set for our next meeting.

Frequently treated erroneously in this way are the plurals bacteria, criteria, phenomena, and memoranda. The distinction between singular and plural, however, should be retained; when the singular is intended, use bacterium, criterion, phenomenon, and memorandum.

Also, many now consider acceptable the use of data as a singular.5 In this usage, data is thought of as a collective noun and, when considered as a unit rather than as the individual items of data that compose it, it takes the singular verb. However, JAMA and the Archives Journals prefer to retain the use of the plural verb with data in all situations.2

Very few data were [not very little data was] available to support our hypothesis.

The word media in the sense of communications media is becoming acceptable in this collective usage, although its use in this sense has not yet reached the acceptability that agenda has gained and data is close to gaining.5,6 Most scientific journals retain the distinction between singular and plural.

Singular:

Each news medium shapes journalism to its own constraints.

Plural:

The media give much attention to the managed care debate. [Here media refers to all types of news coverage.]

In the sense of laboratory culture or contrast media, medium should be used for the singular and media for the plural.

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