Grammar Criteria vs. Criterion: Is Criterion Plural? |
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Criteria vs. Criterion: Is Criterion Plural?

Many of us may be aware that criteria are factors used in making a decision or ruling. At the same time, while this word is common among us, we might not always recognize the distinction between it and its singular form, criterion.

If you’ve ever found yourself volleying between criteria and criterion, you’re in the right place. Let’s look at the difference between them.

Is Criterion Plural for Criteria?

On occasion, we might come across criterion being used as the plural for criteria. The opposite is true. Criteria is the plural noun, and criterion is the singular version. Criterion also is used less often.

If you are considering more than one factor when making a decision, you would refer to those multiple points as criteria. Conversely, if only one point influences your deliberation, you would refer to it as the criterion.

Understanding the Confusion Between Criteria and Criterion

American English includes plenty of words with nonstandard forms of pluralization. However, the criteria versus criterion issue might be especially confusing for some. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that criterion has old Greek and Latin origins. Many such words are made plural in ways beyond conventional contexts of English. For example, the plural version of radius is radii, a word that may be less familiar to some.

Similarly, many of us likely recognize the common plural word bacteria. Its singular is bacterium, which is more apt to appear in scientific writing than in our daily communication.

The second reason behind confusion of criteria and criterion concerns how popular use can transform the role of a word. For example, while data and bacteria are technically plural words, they are often both applied as singular because of the plural’s greater familiarity (e.g., the data reveals surprising results).

Criteria likewise has broad use as both singular and plural (e.g., the criteria for obtaining the loan is strict). Because criterion is written and spoken more rarely, the better-known criteria frequently replaces it as the singular while retaining the plural role.

Languages are always changing, as are style guides. As a precise and eloquent writer, you might choose to differentiate criterion and criteria according to what we’ve discussed. You might also decide to join the pack using criteria in all applications, in which case you typically won’t find yourself on grammatical trial. Unless an editor, professor, or in-house style edict directs you otherwise, your writer’s preference can often prevail.

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