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Ok, this question came from another question, in which my answer has a "problem".

In this question, three conditions were given. In my answer to this question, I stated:

You have listed a very specific criteria...

However, at the bottom, in the comments, a user stated that "Just FYI, the singular of criteria is criterion", seeming to indicate that I should use "criterion" instead.

Which would actually be correct to use in this case, "criterion", or "criteria" (I'm pretty sure that since there's multiple conditions, criteria should be used, unless there's an exception here I am not acquainted with). And can someone please explain how the grammar behind all this works.

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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There is nothing saying that the object of the verb list cannot be a singular noun.

I knew I could satisfy all the conditions until he listed one very specific requirement I simply couldn't meet.

If you wish to use the plural form in your sentence, you should make the number agreement work:

You have listed very specific criteria.

Not "a very specific criteria."

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Now I understand, thanks! –  Thursagen Aug 19 '11 at 5:11
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Criteria is the plural of criterion, which is a principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided. So the sentence "you have listed a very specific criteria" doesn't agree in its grammatical number. Replace the word "criteria" with "dogs" and you'll see the problem immediately. It would be better to write

You have listed very specific criteria

as the original question had multiple criteria (more than one criterion).

P.S. I feel that it is an increasingly common mistake for people to say "criteria" when they mean "criterion" and that eventually, as with "data/datum", people will use the word "criteria" in a singular fashion without anyone noticing or caring. But that day hasn't come yet.

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I agree that "criteria" is increasingly being used in the singular, and it is likely that "criterion" will disappear. But I think "data" is a different case. The use of "datum" to mean "item of data" is extremely rare, and I believe always has been. I use "data" as a mass noun, thoughtfully and not through any confusion. –  Colin Fine Aug 16 '11 at 13:07
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These are considered irregular plurals from Latin and Classical Greek. Rather than me copying and pasting the source, here's the wiki link that explains it.

English Plural

Here's an excerpt from the link that explains it.

English has borrowed a great many words from Latin and Classical Greek. The general trend with loanwords is toward what is called Anglicization or naturalization, that is, the re-formation of the word and its inflections as normal English words.

Many nouns (particularly ones from Latin) have retained their original plurals for some time after they are introduced. Other nouns have become Anglicized, taking on the normal "s" ending. In some cases, both forms are still competing. The choice of a form can often depend on context: for a linguist, the plural of appendix is appendices (following the original language); for physicians, however, the plural of appendix is appendixes. Likewise, a radio or radar engineer works with "antennas", but an entomologist deals with "antennae".

The choice of form can also depend on the level of discourse: traditional Latin plurals are found more often in academic and scientific contexts, whereas in daily speech the Anglicized forms are more common. In the following table, the Latin plurals are listed, together with the Anglicized forms when these are more common.

See wiki link for list of forms, which includes the plural form for criterion.

As an example, some of the Greek words ending in -a like stigma, dogma and schema, their plural ends with -ata because they are considered neutral in gender. The only time the plural is different is in the genative case (των στομάτων), where -ata is replaced by -aton.

As for criterion (κριτήριο), it too is a Greek noun which is neutral in gender. The rules governing this, however, are slightly different because it ends in -o. The plural for this kind of noun ends with -a. Therefore, το κριτήριο becomes τα κριτήρια. Again, the only time the plural is different is in the genative case (των κριτήριων), where -a is replaced with -on (not to be confused with the singular case, though).

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You don't have to copy it all, of course. But if you report the parts regarding this question, it's better, also because I can't tell which part you meant for this question (that, by the way, asks for something else, I think). –  Alenanno Aug 16 '11 at 12:59
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Washington State University has a simple explanation of which form of the word is appropriate to use when.

There are several words with Latin or Greek roots whose plural forms ending in A are constantly mistaken for singular ones. See, for instance, data and media. You can have one criterion or many criteria. Don’t confuse them.

However, in regards to your response to the original question, which listed three criteria, I believe you were correct in your use of the word.

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But the sentence was still grammatically incorrect. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 16 '11 at 12:59
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