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Data: Singular or Plural?

Is data singular or plural?

In Latin, data is the plural of datum, which is “something given or admitted especially as a basis for reasoning or inference” or “something used as a basis for calculating or measuring.”

Therefore, we should always treat data as a plural noun, right?

The truth is that the word “data” may take singular or plural verbs and modifiers. For instance, it is correct to treat data as a singular noun when used as an abstract mass noun (such as the word “information”).

However, in my field of specialization — medicine and other related life sciences — data is generally only used as a plural noun.

According to the AMA Manual of Style, data is the plural of datum — and it is referred to as a false singular (same as “criteria,” “media,” and “phenomena”).

The only exception is when referring to “big data” as a term for massive, often unstructured data sets that can be mined for business or social uses. In that case, we will treat it as a singular noun.

Additionally, the way we may pronounce the word “data” will vary regionally, but as a general rule:

  • In British English, people generally pronounce the first syllable as a diphthong (i.e., /ˈdeɪ-tə/).

  • In American and Australian English, people tend to pronounce the first syllable as a monophthong (i.e., /ˈdæ-tə/ in the US and /ˈdɑː-tə/ in Australia).

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