Data is/are

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri May 5 23:10:07 UTC 2006

On May 3, 2006, at 7:57 AM, Geoff Nathan wrote:

> I'm composing a University Policy on the security of sensitive
> data, and am having a 'discussion' with my colleagues about whether
> 'data' should take singular or plural agreement.  I'm generally in
> favor of keeping it (as it is in my speech) a mass noun, and a few
> instances look really weird with plural agreement, but my
> colleagues (and perhaps the Provost and President) are likely to
> need some persuasion.  Is there a nice website dealing with issues
> such as this?  I tried googling around yesterday and didn't find
> much.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.  Occasionally
> the two halves of my life come together...

MWDEU is a good place to start.  it concludes that both versions are
fully standard in all sorts of contexts, but cautions you (as do
other sources) to be consistent.

i wonder about the consistency thing.  "e(-)mail" is now used by many
people sometimes as a mass noun (like "mail"), sometimes as a count
noun (like "message"), and sometimes people shift in succeeding
sentences.  moreover, writers will defend these choices; they say
that there is a subtle but important difference between the way they
view the e-mail, depending on whether "e-mail" is used as a count or
a mass noun.  i have a lot of sympathy with this view (and have
started to find count "e-mail" creeping into my usage).  much the
same could be said about "data", though count "data" isn't
comfortable with number modifiers, the way "e-mail" is, so count
"data" isn't as useful as it might be: no "a thousand data", alas.

arnold, all in favor of having choices and using them skillfully

The American Dialect Society -

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