In science as well as pop-culture, I've seen "Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell" in the singular.

However, "mitochondria" is the plural form of "mitochondrion", which leads me to think that the popular phrase is a grammatically incorrect one since it uses "is", whereas it should be using "are": Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell.

Am I missing something here? Is there a different aspect in the context of how these words are used generally in the scientific terminology, or the popular use of this phrase is just grammatically incorrect?

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    Mitochondria are the powerhouse(s) of the cell is how it should read. S-V agreement mandates this construction only. – user405662 Apr 15 at 17:58
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    Don't worry about it happens all the time. If I got upset every time I heard or read "... it depends what your criteria is.' Now I endure my twinge in silence and move on. The language itself is moving on too. – Tuffy Apr 15 at 18:07
  • You're speaking English, not Greek. Think of it as a feminine in the singular and a neuter in the plural, if that will help. That would be -a either way. – John Lawler Apr 15 at 19:21
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    Nowadays, people say "data is". – GEdgar Apr 15 at 19:47
  • @GEdgar "data is" is certainly he more common, but I'm actually hearing people say "data are" much more frequently these days than I did in the 00s or 90s. "Data science" is all the rage. – Blaise Zydeco Apr 15 at 21:59

If you could give an example from a scientific source, that would be helpful.

The specific phrase "mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell" or “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell" appears to be a meme. Memes can proliferate even when they aren’t grammatical or well worded; it’s not exactly the same thing as “popular usage” of an ordinary, non-meme phrase or saying.

The choice of just one author to use this wording in some popular, highly imitated online post might have been the ultimate cause of why you see it so often on the internet.

You’re correct that “mitochondria” is a plural noun in standard usage, so the correct phrasing would be instead “mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell”, “mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell”, or “the mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell.”

  • As for a specific phrase from a scientific source, I think I don't have it on my hand, but your point about it being a meme is correct, however, I believe the meme itself originated from the same phrase found in our high-school text I believe. – Deepak Kamat Apr 16 at 9:07

You're right to think it's incorrect. It is incorrect. Verb form should agree with the subject, so if using "mitochondria" (plural) for the subject, the verb should use the plural form "are".

However, this usage is ironic in that the phrase is perpetuated by its absurdity. It lives on despite no apparent source in part because the American education system has perpetuated it and in part because students of the English language and students of organic chemistry live to bond over mocking it for its failings. That is, the expression is flawed both in it's grammaticality and in it's capacity to convey useful information about cells.


It would be, The mitochondria is the power house of the cell. In your example you had used a singular noun. When using a singular objective noun, ore often than not you will add the. One other tip is to check for the type of noun and how it is being used (objective, preperative, general, subjcet, etc.).

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    Verb should agree with subject, not object. "Many people people make a team," not, "Many people makes a team." – R Mac Apr 15 at 23:31

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