Criteria for excellence

Singular subjects take singular verbs : plural subjects take plural verbs. That is so easy that I wonder why I need to mention it. Maybe it is because some people can't tell a singular word from a plural word. The cat is sleeping. Fine. The cats are sleeping. Even better. Let sleeping cats lie. The problem isn't with cats. It's easy to tell how many there are because cats follow the rules. Well, at least they follow this one. A plural ends in -s. Maybe the problem is with children, who don't follow the -s rule. Let's see. The first child plays while the other children work. No, that seems fair, except to the children.

The problem is that there are some words which don't look very English. Sometimes people forget whether they are singular or plural. One famous example is criterion which is a singular word, taking criteria as its plural.

The criterion for charter strength is

The criteria for distinguished club are

So you will see that criterion takes a singular verb because there is only one, but criteria takes a plural verb because there is more than one.

Of course, we can be more general than this, but simply put, one criterion requires a singular verb while several criteria requires a plural verb. Either of the following is correct.

Finally, there is no such word as criterias* any more than we can seriously talk about childrens* playing in the garden. More next month...

Following the phenomenal success of this column, I have been asked to point out that exactly the same points as apply to criterionalso apply to phenomenon. If there's more than one of the things, then we're talking about phenomena. This probably applies to all words of Greek origin ending in -on. No doubt somebody can think of a counterexample.

While I'm still talking about plurals, let's look at a six-sided cube that has from one to six dots on each face. One of these creatures is a die and several of them are dice. You never have one dice*, just one die Why has this come about? I'm not sure but I think it dates from the ancestors of our politically correct brethren who presumably thought it an inappropriate word for parlour games. After all, they would say, we must "never say die", even when it is the correct word.

The District Grammarian admits defeat: animals with irregular plurals: I will fight for geese, sheep, deer and numerous other animal plurals, but I concede that kine are a lost cause. If you have one cow and add another cow, you now seem to have two cows rather than two kine. The language is moving on. Make a note that the plural of cow could be kine, however. It may come up in a trivia quiz some time.

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