Latin—it’s a language few people know, and yet it messes with so much of our grammar. I’m not advocating that you learn Latin, but you’ll often find that many an English snafu stems from that dusty language.
In Latin, for instance, plural nouns are formed in a variety of fashions. One of those ways involves taking the -um ending and making it an -a ending. Why does this matter? Because there’s one noun in particular that trips up even the best writers.
Here it is: The word data is formally a plural noun. That means these sentences are correct:
The data show that your passing numbers have fallen off.
The data are never wrong.
Personally, I don’t mind data being used in a singular fashion, and the trend is toward the word being both singular and plural. However, for formal works, make sure you keep it plural. For informal works (including most fiction), the rules are much looser.
A few other strange Latin (or Greek) plurals:
- formula—formulae (formulas)