ôô

‘Data Is’ or ‘Data Are’?

"Data" is the Latin plural of "datum," so why does it sometimes sound weird when people say "the data are" instead of "the data is"?

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #604
the words "data is" and "data are"

 

Let’s say you just backed up your computer, and you get a message that says, “Your data is now safe.”

Super. But wait. Should that be “Your data are now safe”?

‘Data’: The Latin Plural of ‘Datum”

The word “data” comes to English from Latin, in which “datum” is the singular and “data” is the plural. If you’re sticking with that history, it should be “Your data are now safe.” “Data.” Plural.

‘Data’: The English Singular Meaning ‘Information’

But I bet that sounds weird to a lot of you because since the 1940s, people have been using “data” as a singular noun more and more often, especially in general writing.

ratio of data is to data are in Google Ngram

It’s not the first plural Latin noun to decide that it might be happier as a singular either. Consider “agenda.” It also comes from Latin and has a singular form: “agendum.” But if you ask your coworkers about the agendum for Monday’s meeting, you’re likely to get weird looks. Almost everybody thinks of “agenda” as singular—so much so that dictionary.com includes “agendas” as a possible plural of “agenda.” In fact, the Corpus of Contemporary American English includes almost 2,500 examples of “agendas,” including talk of “government agendas” in the “Texas Law Review," “competing agendas” in the “Chicago Sun-Times,” and “global agendas” in “The Lancet.”

“Data” hasn’t made as much of a complete shift to the singular as “agenda” has though. 

Pages

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.