Data is or Data are? The Singular vs. Plural Debate

Now that we’re in the information age, data is everything. Or is it data are everything? Language is dynamic, and the singularity or plurality of a word changes over time. 

Datum vs. data is a common conflict among style guides and dictionaries. Stick with me to learn when you should use data is or are, data was or were, and this data or these data.

The usage of the word data should be plural, although it’s now acceptable as a singular noun. Style guides have different recommendations, like only using it as a singular mass noun in non-scientific contexts.

Data are is the right way to use the noun in a sentence because it’s in plural form. In the same way, when choosing between data was or were, the correct form is data were. Between this data or these data, it’s these data.

How to Correctly Use the Word Data

The dictionary entry from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that data is a piece of factual information used as a basis for discussion, reasoning, or calculation. It regards the noun as both singular and plural.

According to the Wall Street Journal, many standard dictionaries and books on language now accept data as singular and plural. The grammatical rules have evolved from using the singular Latin noun datum to using data for a collection of information

That means these two examples can be correct:

  • The data is in the flash drive. (Referring to a collection of information).
  • The data are in the flash drive. (Referring to more than one datum).

Datum is a singular Latin noun that means a single piece of information–for example:

  • Every datum lets you track the location of your item.

As time went by, data became a synonym for the word information. This instance made the word an acceptable form of the singular mass noun. 

Guardian style guru David Marsh says it’s like the word agenda, which used to be plural for agendum. Now, agendum seems “hypercorrect” and “old-fashioned.”

However, some do not agree about data being an uncountable noun. Major style manuals like the Publication Manual are firm with sophisticated rules like datum as singular and data as plural.

Here are some examples:

  • This datum is irrelevant to our primary intent.
  • These data are irrelevant to our primary intent.

Some recommend using data as a plural noun in scientific fields and programming languages. Note that it’s critical to focus on individual pieces of information when you’re discussing a data set in science. 

Meanwhile, language pedants think data as a singular noun should be left for everyday speech. But it sounds better and less “formal” among the natural languages–for example:

  • Is that the data containing the demographic information of the residents? 
  • I conducted an informal Twitter poll, and the current data is predictable. 

In short, the actual usage of data is or data or depends on which style guide you’re following or the field where you’re working. It remains a significant style issue that experts disagree on. So, it’s safe to say there’s no single proper usage of data.

It’s also helpful to remember that data set is made of two words, while database is only one word–for example:

  • We need six more data sets to complete this matrix.
  • The university is planning to produce a database of research articles. 

Is Data Singular or Plural in AP Style?

AP Stylebook posted once on Twitter about the word data. According to them, “the word data typically takes singular verbs and pronouns when writing for general audiences, nonscientific writing, and data journalism contexts.”

In everyday usage, you can say, “the data is reasonable” or “the data we collected is not yet enough.” But the style guru continued, “In academic and scientific writing, plural verbs and nouns are preferred.”

In research or scientific fields, you should say data are instead of data is. For example, an academician could say, “the data gathered for this study represent the whole population.” Represent is in plural form because its subject, data, is treated as a plural, countable noun. You’ll often notice this with scientific writing as well as financial writing.

Is Data Plural or Singular in the UK?

The debate on datum vs. data is not affected by the geographical varieties of the English language. British usage also uses data as singular in newspapers and other non-scientific disciplines. But British Scientific publishers still prefer data as a plural noun. 

Examples of “Data Is” in a Sentence

By the time the data is published, copycat investors would have made an annualised loss of almost 10 per cent. [Financial Times]

Obama’s campaign staff members said that all that data is not gathered to shape the message. [Washington Post]

Android phone location data is about to get a lot more accurate. Qualcomm will use a Trimble RTX-based correction service with Snapdragon chips. [Engadget]

“Data is power,” says Essex County pharmacist Tim Brady, but only when it’s taken with a grain of salt. [CTV News]

Examples of “Data Are” in a Sentence

Data are still being analyzed but will be ready to present at the conference. [Denver Post]

Money data are not everything. [Telegraph]

From a statistical point of view the data are related to a nonlinear mixed effects model involving repeated measures. [British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology]

We show that Howrey’s method for producing economic forecasts when data are subject to revision is easily generalized to handle the case where data are produced by a sophisticated statistical agency. [Journal of Business and Economic Statistics]

Because COVID-19 data were not yet provided on any public-health agency’s website, they looked elsewhere, including on Facebook and Twitter posts and in one-off news and media announcements. [Nature]

Data is Both Singular and Plural

The debate on data is or are, data was or were, and this data or these data is still ongoing. Differentiating between datum vs. data also remains tricky.

If you’re a scientific writer or just a language pedant, use datum for the singular form and data for the plural form. But if casual English is enough for you, use data as both singular and plural. Learn more confusing but straightforward words like compress vs. compress and record vs. record on our site! And let us know if you have additional questions. 

10 thoughts on “Data is or Data are? The Singular vs. Plural Debate”

  1. Oliver, if I followed your way of thinking, I would misspell “ask” as “aks” whenever I wrote to my (two) friends who, for some unkown reason cannot  pronounce the word “ask” as it is spelt!  I have no intention of taking that leap in order to pander to them.  However, I understand the discomfort one might feel in saying “datum” – even when discussing science with scientists.

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  2. Grammarist does not seem to mention anywhere that “datum” has a technical meaning of a reference point for taking measurements, with the plural usually “datums”.

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  3. Because it requires units to specify its extent, I firmly believe that data should act as a singular noun. Without a doubt, to speak of five data just sounds silly, but it is natural to specify 5 kilobytes of data. The supposed singular, “datum”, has a specific meaning which is distinct from the singular data point. When we speak of data, we also refer to the meta-information that goes with it, and that can best be described as collective singular that cannot be enumerated.

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  4. There are some who argue that because people tend not to use the singular “datum” that we can then use the plural “data” as singular. Odd argument.

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  5. “Today’s sunlight are too bright, and my homework are killing me.”

    I think people need to remember what multiplicable singularities are.

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  6. I’m ok with either form, i.e. whether “data” is followed by a singular or a plural verb…..in ENGLISH. My concern is that “google translate”, which truly sucks, stubbornly uses a singular verb in translations, although the noun is clearly plural, e.g. “Daten” (German), “Donnees” (Fr), “Datos” (Sp) etc. However, the reason why I’m posting this is, am I losing my mind, or did I detect an error in the 3rd last line of the article? “….because those searches coverS large amounts of…” Surely, it should read: ‘those searches cover…’ It’s ironic, but not uncommon. Yesterday, I googled a CV-related site which pointed out the importance of avoiding typos and/or grammatical mistakes in one’s resume (sorry, I don’t know how to do accents), yet that very sentence contained a grammatical error. Makes you wonder!

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  7. “Data”, like “information” and “knowledge” is an uncountable noun. For those who stand in opposition to treating “data” as an uncountable noun (called here a “singular mass noun”), consider that this means you prefer to hear “not many data” and “a few data” over “not much data” and “a little data”… in which case you may not be surprised to hear that you have not many common sense.

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