Is singular correct, or is plural of "credential" correct for a single username & password pair?

  • 2
    The question would rather be "What is an expression for the username-password pair of a user?" That may be asked on stackoverflow.com or other appropriate tech site.
    – Kris
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:33
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    @Kris, a username-password pair is as much a credential (more commonly, credentials) as the letter Samuel Johnson asked for when requesting "A short letter for me to show… as a kind of Credential".
    – Jon Hanna
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:40
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    @Kris What's your basis for asserting that a username-password pair isn't referred to as "credentials"? As far as I'm concerned, it's a completely standard term in the industry - that's based on 10+ years of experience, and verified by quickly Googling "username password credentials" just now.
    – Morton
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:42
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    @Kris source for what? If you hold that there is some sort of magical distinction between some text passed between computers and some text written on paper, I would say that the burden of proof; or at least the burden of making some sort of supporting argument, is with you.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:43
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    I don't think personal experience is relevant, but the collective experience is. I've discovered that different tech resources will use singular and plural interchangeably. MSDN will call something "NetworkCredential", but Amazon Web Services uses the plural. Personal experiences with a particular technology-set may lend to a bias. That's why I think Morton's answer is most correct.
    – Samuel
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:57

4 Answers 4


This isn't a question you can answer by thinking about the grammar - it's just a case of conventional usage.

I've previously worked in the tech industry, and we would always say credentials, never credential. That would still be true even if the credentials were a single item like a certificate. [Edit to add: but Samuel has provided a counter-example to this in a comment on the OP.]

In wider English, credential is valid - it's used for example in this Wikipedia article - but it's still more common to use the plural (see Oxford Dictionaries for confirmation). For example, I could say that I have presented my credentials to someone if I have shown them my passport, even though I've only shown them one physical item.

  • I think you have missed the basic point here. Please see my comment at OP.
    – Kris
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:34
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credential
    – Kris
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:50
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    @Kris How about you make your own answer instead of commentting on every answer the same un-insightful, un-helpful comment? As Morton pointed out in comments on the question: "The classic combination of a user's account number or name and a secret password is a widely used example of IT credentials" Hence, pair can be referred to as credentials.
    – eques
    Jun 12, 2015 at 16:56
  • @Kris I'm not sure that a Wiki page which states "In many democratic nations, press credential [sic] are [sic] not required" is a good grammar reference here ;) Certainly in British English the plural is much more commonly used even when referring to a single object (e.g. a security pass), as the dictionary references in other posts state.
    – alephzero
    Jun 12, 2015 at 19:14

Both are correct, and both have been used in both plural and singular form whether literally (when one has an actual proof of one's being authorised to do something) and figuratively in both plural and singular of a single piece of such evidence from the 1600s until the current day.

The plural use is far more common, as the OED confirms.

As such it's a matter of style, but if you don't have a rule from a style guide, you are probably better off using credentials, but also better off not criticising someone who uses credential for doing so.

  • 1
    I think you have missed the basic point here. Please see my comment at OP.
    – Kris
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:34

In terms of providing proof of who you are with a user name and password, "Credentials" should be used, even if there is only one set of username & password.

When you log into a website, for example, you have to prove who you are. You do this with at least two pieces of information:

  1. Your User name, which is used to determine if you have an account
  2. Your password, which is used to determine if you can access the account

In some cases, you will have to provide one credential at a time. I've heard that Google and others are starting to do this, where you provide a user name first, then click into another page that will then ask for the password for that account. In these cases, each page would ask for one credential.

Other places may ask you for even more credentials, such as verifying a secret picture and phrase, answering security questions, etc.

By the way, you mentioned in a comment on your question that MSDN refers to it as a 'networkcredential.' I believe the class is called NetworkCredential so that programmers know there is only one set of credentials in there, as naming the class NetworkCredentials would make it seem as though the class is a collection of NetworkCredential objects. This is common practice in programming.

If you read the description for the NetworkCredential here: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.net.networkcredential(v=vs.110).aspx, you'll see the description uses Credentials:

Provides credentials for password-based authentication schemes such as basic, digest, NTLM, and Kerberos authentication.


Oxford Dictionaries Online confirms that credential does exist in the singular (achievement, quality or aspect of a person's background, especially when used to indicate their suitability for something) but it notes that it is usually used in the plural - which is my own experience.

And as Morton notes in his answer it would be usual to say that one had presented one's credentials even if it only involved one item.

  • 3
    The question, sadly, is not whether 'credential' exists, but whether it is the correct term for a username+password. Jun 12, 2015 at 14:51
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    @Kris If you look in the OED (assuming that meets your criteria for 'a good dictionary') you will get an exhaustive treatment of he subject, including the contexts in which credential is used in the singular, and when in the plural. I was giving a more shorthand version which I judged was needed in the circumstances.
    – WS2
    Jun 12, 2015 at 17:24

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