The Christian Science Monitor

Confused by plural nouns? Blame Latin.

We don’t tend to think of noun plurals as particularly controversial. One cat, many cats; one participle, many participles. Pretty straightforward. But, as my daughter learned when she was studying for a grammar exam recently, there are many about which reasonable people disagree.

“Your data is all wrong.” all wrong,” since data is the plural form of , which meant “something given” in its original Latin and became “a piece of information” in English. One datum, many data – the data all point one way. Except that the data points the opposite way, too. In most disciplines, except for the sciences, data has become a mass noun, a noun denoting something that can’t be counted, like information, gold, or water. It doesn’t make sense to say “he found 20 golds”; you have to say “he found 20 pieces of gold.” (Lucky him!) It’s fine, then, to go with “much of the data is” rather than “many of the data are,” unless you are trying to get published in The Journal of Chemical Physics.

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