Common Mistakes – Part 2 – data is or data are?
This second instalment of common mistakes I encounter when revising and editing texts that have been written by non-native speakers of English kicks off with “data”. Should it be followed by a singular or a plural verb? I’ll base my response to this on the New Oxford Style Manual, as this is the style guide I use for my work, but I’ll also check The Chicago Manual of Style to see if it differs.
data is or data are? According to the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, most of the time it’s going to be data is because it’s treated as a mass noun; however, in specialised scientific texts data are is used. Interestingly, the New Oxford Dictionary for Scientific Writers and Editors doesn’t explicitly say that this is the case. Although it points out that data is the plural form of datum and should, therefore, always be followed by a plural verb, it acknowledges that data is now used more often than not with a singular verb.
Can Chicago clarify the situation? Well apparently it can, but I had to go to the online version of the style guide (which I don’t subscribe to as I have the book) to use the search options to find the information as data is not handily listed in the index under “d”; it’s in amongst all sorts of other terms in the “Glossary of Problematic Words and Phrases”, point 5.220. Like Oxford, Chicago agrees that data is is now more commonly used than data are. However, unlike Oxford, it tells you to use data are in formal writing, and always data are in scientific writing.
Confused? Chicago’s advice is clearer and far more direct. Oxford seems a little wishy-washy and sit-on-the-fency. I could say something here about US/UK personality stereotypes, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
- When acronyms are plural, there is no apostrophe before the “s”. So one SLA (service level agreement), two SLAs and not two SLA’s.
- There is no capital letter after a semicolon (;) (unless, of course, the word would have a capital letter wherever it appeared in the sentence).
- When semicolons are used in a list or in a series, they are used throughout, i.e. there is no comma before the “and” and the last item in the list.
I only wish for three things: to pass my exams, including my driving test, with flying colours; a holiday in the sun to recover from all the stress, and to get into my chosen university. = incorrect
I only wish for three things: to pass my exams, including my driving test, with flying colours; a holiday in the sun to recover from all the stress; and to get into my chosen university. = correct
For more on the semicolon, please see this page on Bristol University’s website, which includes some fun exercises.
- There is no capital letter after a colon (:) (unless, of course, the word would have a capital letter wherever it appeared in the sentence). However, as Oxford points out and Chicago confirms, it’s not quite the same in US usage. If a complete sentence follows the colon, then the first letter is capitalised (so, in case anyone was ever in any doubt, this is another example of why translating into US English is a whole lot more complicated than just using the US spellchecker).
Jane was in a dither: should she go to the disco or the cinema? = UK usage
Jane was in a dither: Should she go to the disco or the cinema? = US usage
This post was first published on 23/05/2014 on my previous blog.