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The longstanding question of whether "data" is singular or plural has a very appropriate answer in: Is "data" treated as singular or plural in formal contexts?

Yet, I wonder if the same arguments hold true for the related "metadata". In the same "technical paper" context as the linked question, is it appropriate to use "metadata are"? Or does it perhaps depend on the context?

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    I would say yes. In any context where you would be sticklerish enough to insist on plural agreement for data, I would expect both reader and writer to know that metadata is simply a compound with data as its head, and thus use it with identical agreement. I think I might actually be more likely to consider metadata a collection of individual things (and use plural agreement), rather than a single entity, than I would with data. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 25 '14 at 16:13
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I have the same perception, that metadata is more apt to take plural agreement. I’m guessing that may be because it is still largely confined to technical or academic work, where such agreement has been shown to be markedly higher than in other forms of English. – tchrist Jun 25 '14 at 16:18
  • @tchrist That’s probably part of it. But I also think it’s because I think of metadata as being a collective term for all kinds of different items, unlike data, which to me is more often a large set of identically structured items. To use markup language as a parallel, I think of data as HTML tags: a limited group of predefined tags, the use or non-use of any of which is discretionary; while I think of metadata as XML tags: a non-limitable group consisting of as many or few tags as you can think of to create. The latter seems somehow more ‘plural-like’ than the former. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 25 '14 at 16:23
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    In common parlance, consider metadata (and data) to be a mass noun, much like sand. There is sand on the beach, much like there is metadata in a DB. – Digital Chris Jun 25 '14 at 17:25
  • @DigitalChris While I agree that colloquial use allows for "data" (and perhaps thus "metadata") to be a mass noun (i.e. singular), I am more interested in the case where "data" has already been accepted and used as plural in a particular context. – cslstr Jun 25 '14 at 17:59
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"While I agree that colloquial use allows for "data" (and perhaps thus "metadata") to be a mass noun (i.e. singular), I am more interested in the case where "data" has already been accepted and used as plural in a particular context."

Then, in this case, you would use metadata in the same way as data because "meta" is simply a prefix; the core word should receive consistent treatment. Metadata should, in this case, be treated as plural.

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