I'll cut right to the chase: the word "data" is plural. It's the plural form of Latin word "datum." Many data. One datum.

Datum means "a given" or "something that should be taken into consideration."

Nobody really uses the word "datum." Instead people say "data point" to represent a single unit of data.

So yes – when developers and data scientists say: "the data suggest these two phenomena are correlated" instead of "suggests" – they are in-fact using the word "data" correct.

This is not a matter of being cheeky. There is a single objective reality we all live in. And in that reality, the word "data" is plural.

But it's OK for people to say "the data is" instead of "the data are"

It really is.

Life is too short for this kind of nitpicking.

I often hear people who work with data use the wrong subject-verb agreement for the word data. I don't correct them. Because I don't want them to dismiss me as pedantic. Or to take this as some form of deeply-felt criticism.

And I recommend you don't correct people on this, either.

You can keep sailing through life, saying "data are" while all your colleagues continue to say "data is." You can feel a smug satisfaction that – deep down inside – you are right and they are wrong.

Who knows. Maybe one day your boss will approach you one-on-one after a team meeting. They'll say:

"You know – I always thought it was strange that you said "the data are" when everyone else I know says "the data is."

But I looked it up. And you were right. You've been right all along, and it was us who were wrong.

And yet you didn't correct us.

You are a really cool, magnanimous person. You deserve a promotion and a pay raise."

OK – maybe not that last part.

But it feels good to say it correctly, doesn't it?

Eventually all the people who keep saying it wrong will look the word "data" up in the dictionary. They too will come to see the light.

This isn't some crazy hard irregular verb we're talking about. (Just try correctly conjugating the phrase "to lie down" for past and past participle, and you'll see what I mean.)

Lay VS Lie explained. It's complicated. Image credit: Vocabulary.cl

This isn't like knowing when to say "who" and when to say "whom."

Remembering that the word "data" is plural is something you can get the hang of pretty quickly.

Remember, there 3 things that can instantly make anyone sound smarter:

  • Black frame glasses
  • A white lab coat
  • Saying "data are" instead of "data is"

There you go. I hope you've learned something useful today.