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Is “data” considered singular or plural?

Which one the following is right grammar

"Limited data support the use of ..." or

"Limited data supports the use of ..."

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marked as duplicate by Cerberus, Barrie England, aedia λ, MετάEd, Mitch Feb 1 '12 at 15:57

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2 Answers

A count noun is something that you can count like the word 'system'. So you could say 'the system supports...' or 'the systems support'.

A mass noun, on the other hand, always takes the singular conjugation, e.g. 'milk is delicious'.

A simple way to tell the difference between a count noun and a mass noun is to ask, 'how many?' or 'how much?' We would say, 'how many systems...?' and we would say, 'how much milk?' The former is a count noun, whereas the latter is a mass noun.

So the question boils down to whether or not data should be treated like a count noun or a mass noun. First of all, data is a plural noun - its singular form being 'datum' but if we classify it as a mass noun we can used the singular conjugation regardless of its plurality. I think it can be argued either way that it could be either a count or a mass noun depending on exactly what you're talking about or who you ask.

These days data seems to be a mass noun (in my eyes). Would you say, 'how much data?' or 'how many data?' If you would say, 'how much data' then you would be treating 'data' as a mass noun which means it should take the singular conjugation (i.e. supports). (

Apparently, both 'data supports' and 'data support' are acceptable however (I read that) some scientific/academic fields insist that you take the plural (i.e. data support) whereas the singular is more commonly used in everyday speech. It is also a question of style and can come down to personal preference. One might even argue that the insistence on using the plural conjugation 'data are' / 'data support' might seem archaic / out-dated.

I personally think that 'data supports' sounds better than 'data support', and I don't think that you would be wrong in using the singular option since data could easily be a mass noun, it reads more nicely and is not incorrect.

A more clear-cut example is the word, 'information'. The word is plural and you would say, 'how much information?' as opposed to 'how many information?' As such we can see that 'information' is a mass noun and therefore takes the singular verb conjugation despite its plurality.

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Either is fine. Data is an established mass noun in English, so generally "data supports" is preferred. The only problem is that you might encounter someone who believes it is incorrect to use "data" as a mass noun and who, incorrectly, thinks there's something wrong.

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