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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?

  • So is it correct to say "There are three criteria to this project?" – user18795 Mar 5 '12 at 20:39
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    @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
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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
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    It's all just "criteria". One criteria, two criteria. Just like fish, I guess. – Hellion Feb 12 '11 at 15:49
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    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
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    +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
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    @Acco No, "a set of criteria" would be correct, because a set, in standard usage, implies more than one member. (Mathematically, of course, you can have an empty set or a single-member set; but in normal English, a set is taken to be 2 or more items taken together.) – Hellion Feb 11 '16 at 6:05
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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
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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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In English, a lot of nouns have kept the original ending coming from classical Greek or Latin. Criterion is just one of them. In science you find a lot of words with these queer plural forms, but in fact they follow the Greek and latin declensions: Latin: alga- algae stimulus -stimuli bacterium -bacteria species-speciei (except that this one is no longer used, it has been replaced by species, due to the fact that in several modern languages "s" means plural. Greek: a thesis -2 theses an analysis -two analyses a criterion -two criteria

This means that if you know the singular form in "a" or "us" or "um", you can deduce the plural !!

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    No, there is no general rule for producing a plural given a word that ends in this or that: you can only deduce the original plural if you actually know Latin or Greek. For example, the nominative plural of species in Latin was the very same word, species; the genitive singular was the speciei spelling you erroneously gave. Similarly, you can only know the Latin plural of an -us word if you know its declension, or else you will get their Latin plurals wrong in pairs like genus/genera, corpus/corpora, apparatus/apparatus. You might also get stigma/stigmata wrong from Greek. – tchrist Dec 3 '14 at 15:20
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You should not use criteria when you mean criterion for the same reason that you should not use criterion when you mean criteria. These is my only criterions. -George Carlin

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