|Data is-data are|
||The use of datum seems to have disappeared and the word data is increasingly being used in the singular form. I personally hate: "...the data is." Any thoughts on this usage?|
||There's a basic problem with individuation. What is a single datum? What is the atomic unit of information? The vernacular has taken over (its mob rule since the concensus among native speakers of the language dictates is attributes), and like it or not, these day, "data" is used as both the singular and plural. One way of reconciling this is that in its singular form, it is occasionally a collective (the data-set as opposed to a single piece of data). Also, that leaves open the ability to use datum for emphasis or as affectation.|
Having encountered the word for years almost exclusively in computer environments, I have the opposite reaction than holmesp. "Data is" sounds correct and "data are" incorrect.|
"Data are" appears in writing much more often than in spoken language, mostly because many publishers have a house rule about it.
BTW, datum has a technical meaning in surveying and mechanical engineering. However, the plural of that word is datums.
Lewis Joplin II
It depends on whether "data" refers to a unit or to individual bits of information.|
According to "The Associated Press Stylebook," published in 2000, (I use this book all the time because I'm in the news biz) says:
DATA -- A plural noun, it normally takes plural verbs and pronouns. See the COLLECTIVE NOUNS entry, however, for an example of when "data" may take singular verbs and pronouns.
COLLECTIVE NOUNS --... Some words that are plural in form become collective nouns and take singular verbs when the group or quantity is regarded as a unit.
Right: A thousand bushels is a good yield. (A unit.)
Thanks, Lewis, for those four crystal-clear examples. You've proven that the context determines the singularity or collective status of a word.|
It's never troubled me greatly, because working in analysis, the word datum is used constantly to reference a singular point on a curve. (Strangely enough, hardly anyone ever has a need to speak of these little points collectively.)
But the collective status of a noun is rather arbitrary. Look at the difference between British and US usage of both police and navy.
"The navy are at sea" and "the police is baffled" will grate on US ears but we'll admit that they are both perfectly correct.