Most, if not all, of the abstract nouns I've come across are singular.

1. My love for him is great.
2. Peace is very difficult to achieve.
3. The temperature of that pot is very high.

So can somebody please explain why out of every abstract noun, data is the one people think is plural? Of course, I realize this is because of the whole "it's plural for datum in Latin" argument, but I see two flaws in this:
1. nobody uses the word "datum," and
2. this is English, not Latin.

Please, I beg of you, prove me wrong. I want to know why this is.

  • 2
    I would say the majority of people probably treat ‘data’ as singular. It can be either or for me, just like ‘bacteria’. But the reason why this one in particular is at least some of the time treated as a plural noun is precisely that it is in origin a plural noun. In earlier stages of English, it was simply the plural of ‘datum’. The fact that nobody says ‘datum’ anymore might support a shift to the singular of the plural as it becomes uncountable; but it doesn't necessitate it. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 23:54
  • Admittedly they always go around as a pair anyway, but aren't airs and graces pretty much a doubly pluralised abstract noun? Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 1:00
  • Who said data is an abstract noun? Just for that, I'm voting to close.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 6:31
  • If you can tell me a sentence in which you count out 5 'datas', then I will say that data is a concrete noun. I, however, also wish that it were a concrete noun to get rid of the entire singular plural battle on data. Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 22:11
  • Saying "Data received from twelve sensors is processed by an Arduino" would suggest that information from the sensors is processed as a single stream; saying "Data...are processed..." would suggest multiple independent streams of information. While "data" is not exactly a "countable" noun, it does have a singular and plural forms; one might think of those forms as being like "sand" or "sands".
    – supercat
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 22:02

3 Answers 3


To some extent you are right. 'Agenda' is also a plural, but people nonetheless say 'The Agenda for the Meeting is in the hand-out', not 'The Agenda are in the hand-out'.

However, I don't really see what it has to do with abstract nouns. I am not even sure that 'data' is an abstract noun. Two of the nouns you mention 'love' and 'temperature' have plurals which are still abstract, in any case.

But take an abstract noun like 'vibes'. It seldom has a singular. I have rarely heard anyone speak of a 'vibe'. Are you suggesting we should say 'The vibes is strong that he is the guilty party'.

  • “I get a kinda downer vibe from that guy”—American, but perfectly common. Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 23:50
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Bad example on my part. How about 'My heart palpitations is because I'm nervous'.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:00
  • No, that would be plural: "My heart palpitations are...". But "My palpitating heartbeat is...". If nothing else, the former has the regular English plural ending (-s), which means most people would construct it as plural (with "are").
    – nxx
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:08
  • Agenda is not plural in modern English. It was in Latin, and (according to the OED) has one obsolete sense (things to be done as opposed to things to be believed) which was treated as plural. The word used currently is singular in English and always has been. Its plurality in Latin is a complete red herring.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:55
  • I (almost! :) hate to do this, but you'll get a bad vibe by following that link. Over 12000 instances doesn't look much like "seldom" to me. Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:55

The question of plurality can be reduced to whether or not it is countable. From usage alone, it isn't clear which side of the debate has more influence, but any mathematician can attest that data is frequently not countable. Because of this, it is generally more accurate to say "data is" than "data are", unless you are specifying that the data being described is discrete.

  • I can't imagine a situation where data isn't countable in the grammatical sense of the word. What are you thinking of? All data is discrete. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 22:20

I'm assuming you're asking for a counter-example to the claim that the only plural abstract noun is data. Spam (as in undesirable email) probably qualifies. As far as I know the plural and singular form of spam is still spam. It could be argued that spam isn't an abstract noun, I suppose, but it's exactly as 'concrete' as 'data'.

  • 3
    I'd call spam an uncountable noun, just like data (for all commonly practical purposes). “I got a spam yesterday” sounds most awkward to me. Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:07
  • 1
    I wouldn't use "spam" as a plural noun. E.g. I'd say something like "All the spam in my inbox is getting on my nerves," not "All the spam in my inbox are getting on my nerves."
    – herisson
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 16:38

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