Sometimes You Just Cannot Win

There are situations that arise when copy editing (and writing, editing, etc.) in which no matter what decision you make there will be someone there to challenge it.

John McIntyre, on his blog You Don't Say: Language and Usage, talks about the conundrum of choosing to use "data is" or "data are."

I know that there are people on both sides of the fence who will argue till they are blue in the face that their side is right, so I will not get into the middle of this debate.

Singular or plural can be complicated. Is one in five people really talking about one person, or is it talking about many people?

It's one of those things that just needs to be consistent in a publication. No matter which side you choose you will have your critics.


JB Dryden said...

I read that article, too, just yesterday, and I ended up having a discussion about it with a colleague of mine. I tend to agree with John about the 'mass noun' argument; my colleague seems to think that it is - and always will be - a plural noun.

To me it seems like a debate grounded in the struggle between descriptivists and prescriptivists. That's just my take on it. Good post.

JB Dryden

Zach Everson said...

Just to make the data debate more confusing, different clients of mine have different rules for its use. More technical documents often require it be plural; papers geared toward the general public usually treat it as singular. What matters most is meeting the readers' expectations.

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