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I came across several forums and articles saying that criteria is plural and criterion is singular. Some gave me the impression that criterion is used to denote a set of rules.

What is the correct use of these two words?

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So is it correct to say "There are three criteria to this project?" –  user18795 Mar 5 '12 at 20:39
@Mike: 'one criterion', 'three criteria'. 'criteria/on to this..' sounds weird. Use 'criteria for...'. Though your punctuation is probably correct for American writing, from a logical use/mention aspect, you should say: '... "...this project." ?'. That is, the punctuation for the quote, inside the quote and the punctuation for the sentence at large outside the quote. –  Mitch Mar 5 '12 at 22:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

According to Merriam-Webster.com, criteria is indeed plural and criterion is singular. The dictionary definition is "a standard on which a judgement or decision may be made"; it's often used synonymously with "requirement(s)", as in "if you don't meet the criteria you won't be allowed in" or "I have one all-important criterion by which I judge potential plumbing contractors: is their shirt tucked in to their belted pants?"

M-W.com also notes that the use of "criteria" as singular has been gaining ground for a long time (50 years or so) and may be considered acceptable usage by now.

(To which I say, fight the change! Use "criterion" correctly!)

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For those for whom criteria is singular, what is the plural? Criterias? Criteriae? Criterions? :-) –  ShreevatsaR Feb 12 '11 at 15:47
It's all just "criteria". One criteria, two criteria. Just like fish, I guess. –  Hellion Feb 12 '11 at 15:49
Like fish? I thought the plural of fish was fishies. You know, "Oh, lots of colorful fishies!". –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 12 '11 at 17:41
+1: I will note that of the three answers here so far, Hellion's is the only one that actually answers the OP's question. –  Robusto Feb 12 '11 at 17:51
Anyone notice a difference when used in a technical context, such as in code? –  Alvin Reyes Aug 13 '12 at 21:13

Criterion comes from Classical Greek. Its gender is neuter and it belongs to the second declension — like the word phenomenon.

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+1 for mentioning phenomenon/a before I had the chance to :-) –  Grewe Kokkor Feb 12 '11 at 17:12

I would say that criteria is used to denote a set of rules, and that one of those rules would be a criterion.

Actually, I wouldn't say that, as a criterion and a rule aren't quite the same thing. I'd make a GRE-style analogy: Criteria is to set of rules as criterion is to rule.

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