Yet More Plural Problems

Dig the double mistake in this headline from the New York Times  on 6 December 2019:

Times Headline

Anyone spot the unforgivable boners in this edition of the Paper of Record? Hint: they both are examples of Americans’ woeful failure to master plurals.

First, it should be “Data Show,” because data is a plural noun (plural of datum, which is a single scrumlet of information).  Then, to compound the grammatical felony, the headline should read, “One in Three Teenagers Uses Tobacco.” It’s the one teenager that uses it, not the three that use it. C’mon grey lady! You can do better.

This stuff matters.

19 thoughts on “Yet More Plural Problems

  1. OUCH! I give my students extra credit for bringing such examples to my attention. You should give yourself an extra pat on the back today for your eagle eyes and excellent command of the English language. Judy


  2. Good catch Dan. They CAN do better. Here’s a plural situation I came across today:

    Over 70% of patient visits to primary care practices involve one or more chronic condition.

    I almost changed condition to the plural form, but realized it is correct.

    Rule: If one or more singular subject [doesn’t that SOUND weird to you?] is joined to one or more plural subject by or or nor, the verb agrees with the subject closest to the verb.

    Duh…this sounds like a rule I would make up – proximity rules!


  3.    Hey Dan Bonnie, once an editor for LexisNexis, tells me that “data”, although the plural of”datum”, in this usage can be considered a singular whole and therefore it is acceptable to use a singular verb. Love V&B

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Dan Bonnie is wrong about that, alas. He probably also says it’s okay to write, “the media is…” And he’d be wrong about that, too.


    2. oh, now i see you were say, “hey, dan. bonnie…” all the more need for clarity in writing. bonnie is a wonderful woman, wicked on the accordion, and very right for you. she she’s wrong about this.


  4. Dan — Ouch on use/uses But data is a tougher nut. Most style manuals, AP for example, allow the “data is” and the NYT hed is correct. Data is a collective noun. But multiple points of data may take the plural, as in “These data show….” it can go both ways, maybe even in the same story.


  5. Dan Baum — how in the hell can I email you without going through all the BS? John Knowlton, Drex Heikes and Patti Epler were here at Monticello West and we spent an hour or more reminiscing about you a month ago.. Your ears ought to be burning and you ought’a get in touch. Dan Sisson (a near computer illiterate who needs direct communication). So let’s catch up…..


  6. Dan! Whoa. You, John Knowlton, Drex Heikes, and Patti Eppler. We’re talking almost forty years. I can be reached at Where are you living now? Where did you build Monticello West? I don’t know if you’ve heard: they’re trying to impeach the criminal narcissist who calls himself “President.” And I’m now full-time professional human-rights activist and a brain-cancer patient. You? All well?
    Really good to hear from you and read all those names in one place.


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