Archives for posts with tag: Plurals

Singulars and plurals: they’re usually really easy to differentiate, but sometimes they make you look like you’re not in command of your native language.

The most common one I hear in a business context is ‘criteria’. It catches folk out all the time. You see, criteria is a plural, and it’s not the kind of plural you can use in a singular context, like ‘data’ for example. You often hear criteria coupled with ‘success’, a popular entry in bullsh*t bingo.

So you have one criterion, from the Latin criterium and before that the old Greek kriterion, and you have multiple criteria from the Latin – you guessed it – criteria. Data has the same latin origins, but it’s so much part of our everyday language that it’s morphed into a collective singular noun and it’s quite acceptable to say ‘the data is awful’ for example.

Not so with criteria. You’ll hear even senior people in an organisation saying ‘which particular success criteria is the most important?’, which gives them away. Of course, mine’s the stiffer upper lip British diagnosis of the word. In other English-speaking territories, they’ve taken a slightly more lenient view. Then again you’ll sometimes hear people talk about the many criterias you can select from, yikes…

Why oh why, dear reader, do folks put an apostrophe before the ‘s’ in your common-or-garden plural?

As we’ve talked about before, an apostrophe only ever signifies possession, as in the dog’s bone, or a missing letter or letters, as in the dog’s got a bone which is short for the dog has got a bone. But to start a sentence with ‘The teacher’s taught the pupils’ betrays an alarming lack of knowledge of that simple rule.

While we’re on the subject of plurals and apostrophes, let me just remind those unsure of how the possessives work with singular and plural nouns. The apostrophe goes immediately after the thing or things doing the possessing. So we write the dog’s bone, but the parents’ association. Where it gets confusing is where the thing doing the possessing has a built-in plural. So, we say the children’s toys, the and the couple’s daughter, but the couples’ children when it’s more than one couple doing the possessing :-). And then we get onto ‘folk’, from the German word volk, meaning people. Some people prefer to say folk, some say folks, so where do you put the apostrophe then? Wherever you like in my view.

Like I say, folk’s punctuation drives me mad…