Our topic for this episode is a bit different from the ones we usually exscind; nevertheless, their evolving forms can potentially cause confusion to both non-native and native English speakers. It was a suggestion from one of my colleagues who has been hooked into the series.
The most important thing that we should know about Latin nouns is they are subject to vicissitude. It means they have the privilege to evolve from time to time. “The distinctions between Latin singulars and plurals is still observed for some English words in some contexts–scientific or academic–but for the most part, either the singular or the plural Latin form, depending upon which sounds less English, tends to be dropped” (dailywritingtips.com).
To date, here are the Latin plural forms that have been anglicized (i.e., accepted in standard usage) per the information I got from dailywritingtips.com as of last year:
Although the singular form datum is correct, it has long been rejected by most English speakers as not sounding right. Hence, data is now used as either singular or plural. (When the study of Latin was standard in the curriculum of English- speaking children, no one thought twice about using datum as the singular form of data. Now that Latin is a rarity in American education, datum sounds foreign and has been abandoned in general usage.)
The Latin plural is still in use, but one also hears appendixes (√).
The Latin plural persists in scientific contexts, but one often hears formulas (√).
The English plural encyclopedias (√) is more common than the Latin.
The Latin plural is used in academic contexts, but one commonly hears indexes (√).
Here, the singular form has dropped out and people speak of both an agenda and agendas (√).
Both of these forms are still in use, but I’ve heard memorandums or memos (√).
Some people still use the Latin plural, but one hears cactuses (√).
Both forms are in use, but one also hears funguses (√).
Since most people now call them hippos (√), the Latin plural is not much in use. The plural hippopotamuses is a mouthful and when used tends to sound humorous.
The original plural was dogmata, but dogmas (√) has prevailed. The older plural, however, gives us the adjective dogmatic.
However it may be, put in mind that there were also those that survived their singular and plural forms respectively in standard usage such as axis/axes, crisis/crises, and criterion/criteria. The latter is what we are going to weave into a side dish.
The usage of criteria as singular is painfully common; however, Standard English prohibits such for it is considered grammatically nonstandard. The standard singular form is criterion and the standard plural form is criteria.
Allow me to substantiate the foregoing statements.
First of all, Grammar Nazis at grammarist.com and chronicle.com concur with the inaccurateness of criteria being singular.
Secondly, leading publications in the United States still use criterion for the singular noun meaning a standard by which something can be judged. Take a look at the following examples taken from well-known publishing companies in the United States:
criterion functions as singular noun
1. Williamson implies that is so, rendering this a meaningless criterion. [Washington Post]
2. Perhaps one such criterion was for mortgages to have a loan-to-value ratio of 100%. [The Atlantic]
3. If comfort were the top criterion for selling womenswear, Jimmy Choo would be out of business. [New York Magazine]
criteria functions as a plural noun
1. We’ll look for help today with today’s screen from Morningstar CPMS, which has set up a conservative screen using seven criteria. [The Globe and Mail]
2. The new criteria have been attacked by many in the industry as being too onerous. [Financial Times]
Lastly, dictionary.com and thefreedictionary.com both say that although criteria is sometimes used as singular, most often in speech and rather infrequently in edited prose, it continues strongly in use as a plural in standard English, with criterion as the singular.
In the future, if the universe will conspire to make you a host for a competition where you will have to enumerate the judging criteria, I hope you will say “The first criterion for judging is …“
Confusing Words: Criteria and Criterion at gingersoftware.com
Criteria vs. Criterion at englishstackexchange.com
Criteria vs. Criterion at forum.wordreference.com