Grammar Is Data Singular or Plural? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Is Data Singular or Plural?

Many of us may have at some point wondered whether we should use data as a singular or plural word. The right answer can be evasive.

How to treat data can influence our writing and sentence structure in different ways. Let’s review this word more closely to reach a conclusion we can work with.

Is It “Data Is” or “Data Are”?

The issue begins with the Latin word datum, a singular noun meaning “a single piece of information, as a fact, statistic, or code.” In the plural form, datum becomes data. One might think that this should clear any confusion.

However, although data has established roots and usage in Latin, it has developed different (and more prevalent) characteristics in modern American English. This is especially true in the information age. Many of us have grown accustomed to treating data as a singular noun: The data suggests fiscal growth over last quarter.

Let’s look at some more examples and consider whether they sound right:

New data is telling me to look for an alternate theory.

Data from the space station indicates the existence of a black hole.

We won’t know what the data is going to reveal until the study ends.

As you can see, each of these sentences uses data as a singular noun with a singular verb.

Now let’s consider the same sentences using data as a plural noun:

New data are telling me to look for an alternate theory.

Data from the space station indicate the existence of a black hole.

We won’t know what the data are going to reveal until the study ends.

To the native ear in American English, these constructions might be awkward; using data as a singular noun with a singular verb simply sounds better (and more common).

If we approach data from a strictly grammatical perspective that considers word origin, our singular use of the word would be technically inaccurate. This is an instance of how prevalent, popular usage can change language over time.

Data and English Grammar

John B. Bremner, in Words on Words, states unequivocally, “The word is plural.” This one is thorny, because the singular, datum, is virtually nonexistent in English. Many people see data as a synonym for “information,” and to them, These data are very interesting sounds downright bizarre. Maybe, but it’s also correct. Theodore M. Bernstein, in The Careful Writer, says, “Some respected and learned writers have used data as a singular. But a great many more have not.”

How to Use Data From Now On

We’ve established that data used to be plural but is now treated more often as singular. So what should you do with that information?

The best answer, in our view, is to make data as singular in most references unless another element qualifies it as plural. For example, in some rare cases, someone might hand you multiple reports and say, “These data reinforce what we’ve been saying about the village water.” The influencing factor here is the plural demonstrative adjective these.

Some Americans still may wince at the sound; if so, we understand. Many people would probably rather say, “This data reinforces…” Our goal with communication is to be understood while establishing comfort and clarity, so there will be times when it’s best to follow the crowd as well as our instincts.

Content That Gets You in a Good Mood About Grammar

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One response to “Is Data Singular or Plural?”

  1. David Randall says:

    I look upon data as being a collection of numbers (or observations), making it singular, much as for other collective terms such as a herd of cows.

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