Make Your Editor Cry: Criteria as Singular or Plural

Make Your Editor Cry: Criteria as Singular or Plural

In somewhat common and very incorrect use these days are phrases like “the criteria is”.

This is grammatically incorrect because the word “criteria” is a plural. The word is based on the Greek pattern -a and -on, so the singular form of “criteria” is “criterion”. Using “criteria” as a singular noun is essentially the same as saying “we is” or “they is” instead of “we are” or “they are”.

No major dictionary or style guide endorses usage of the plural form as the singular form, and most educated native speakers find it incorrect, so there is no valid reason to use “criteria” as a singular noun.

Examples:

Correct in plural:

The main criteria are as follows.
Those are very important criteria.
These criteria were decided upon by the committee.

Correct in singular:

The main criterion is as follows.
That’s a very important criterion.
This criterion was decided upon by the committee.
There’s only one criterion.

Incorrect:

The main criteria is as follows.
That’s a very important criteria.
This criteria was decided upon by the committee.
There’s only one criteria.

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