Plurals in the new world

I’ve got some food for thought – can words like media and criteria be treated as singular nouns? The old school methodology treats these nouns as plural and gives them plural verbs. Thus, ‘The criteria are listed here’. For grammar nerds, this perhaps is the only correct way of using such nouns.

But, I’m not surprised when I see such nouns used with singular verbs. ‘The media reaches everyone fast’ is an example.

There is a gap between what’s technically correct and how the new world uses such words. And, the bridge between these two is ‘mass nouns’. Let’s find this out.

Technically (and traditionally),
Singular form of ‘criteria’ is ‘criterion’, ‘media’ is ‘medium’ and ‘data’ is ‘datum’.
So, as per the Subject–Verb agreement, singular nouns take singular verb and plural nouns take plural verb.
The data are incorrect.
The datum is not sufficient for research.
The medium for this project is face-to-face sessions.
The media have covered the full seminar.

In the new world, plural nouns have got a new definition, mass nouns. Mass nouns have got their name from the masses, people who think such nouns are singular and associate them with singular verbs.

For example,
The data is up to date.
The criteria is listed below.
The media is going through a change.

I remember a colleague who once said, “When I discuss media, I refer to all forms of media as one. When I discuss data, I mean complete statistics. That’s when I use singular verbs”. That’s what many think in the new world, I believe.

So, which one do I prefer? Well, I’m a grammar stickler, so I prefer the traditional way and by saying this, I’m going against the new linguistic tide. However, the fact remains that such nouns are treated more like mass nouns, and you will hear them take singular verbs. Is one correct and the other incorrect? I won’t say so; it’s the choice you make!


Wassup with ‘up’?

On a busy, close-to-year-end evening on Bourke Street, while I was watching everyone enjoying the festive season, I heard around me ‘what’s up’, ‘clean up’, ‘set up’, ‘give up’, ‘show up’, ‘sold up’….

That’s when it struck me, “What’s actually up with ‘up'”? Why has it suddenly become the most important word in English? And trust me, this did strike me big time, and I decided to do some fair bit of research!

Now that I’m convinced some of it does make sense while some redundant, I thought of sharing with you how ‘up’ has shaped (or ‘shaped up’) in the new world. And I give credit to Oxford Dictionary ( for all the understanding I have gained.

Note: I’m discussing the most common usages here. You can refer to Oxford Dictionary for all other meanings of the following verb phrases. Also, I don’t want to divert from the main topic and assume we all know ‘up’ is both an adverb and a preposition.

Sometimes, adding ‘up’ completes the sense. For example, in verb phrases such as
give up – part with something (John decided to give up smoking.)
set up – to establish (Mary seeks help to set up her own blogs.) (If you’ve stopped here thinking about word settings here such as set up, setup and set-up, that’s the theme for my next blog.)

Thus, it definitely is not redundant when used with verbs to form verb phrases. Take a pause and think about some more verb phrases where ‘up’ makes sense. What about ‘shut up’? Is it the same as ‘shut’? Well no! Telling John to shut the door is very different from telling him to shut up. 🙂

Let’s look at some other functionalities of ‘up’ when used as an adverb.

In verb phrases such as ‘get up’, it refers to rising from a sitting posture and standing erect. Other similar phrases are stand up and sit up, among others.

In verb phrases such as lift up and pick up, it means to take the thing from its present place to a level higher, i.e. raising it. In phrases such as dig up, it refers to bringing something from below the level of earth.

Additionally, there are many figurative uses of the word ‘up’ when used in verb phrases.

‘break up’, ‘tear up’ meaning to divide into parts
‘swallow up’ meaning reaching completion
‘finish up’, ‘clear up’ meaning progressing towards an end
‘brush up’, ‘fix up’ meaning fixing or putting in order
‘tie up’, ‘bundle up’ meaning to bring together

So, you’ll find the adverb ‘up’ serves many functionalities when used in verb phrases, and that there is a thin line between its use as redundant and emphasizing. You never know, sometimes redundancy can add just the needed emphasis!

How about ‘hurry up’ and ‘meet up’?

whom-ah…him-ah; he-hoo…who-hoo: the ‘whom’ chant

I read the title and think of some tribal song. But trust me, there’s nothing of that sort happening here. Read the title again and it’ll disclose the essence who vs whom (if you’re a grammar lover, you may have got the rule too :)).

who vs whom

Whom is what many call the problem word because they are unsure about its usage. In fact, many who use it contemplate their sentences with “Did I use whom correctly”.

One stylebook really grasped my attention some years back where it talked about some chant on who vs whom that goes ‘whom-ah…him-ah; he-hoo…who-hoo’. Interesting and goes well too!

The grammar rule that this chant gives is to use whom when you mean him and who when you mean he. One other difference between who and whom is who refers to the subject and whom to the direct object. Let’s study some examples now.

Who is sitting in the class? [Ans.: He is sitting.]
Whom did you see in the evening? [Ans. I saw him.]

Looking at the possible answers and the rule, you will understand why who is correct in the first sentence and whom in the second. In the first sentence, he is the subject; while in the second sentence, him is the direct object. And you have potentially guessed the subject in the second sentence; it’s you.

But I know many language experts think using whom at times sounds uptight. They prefer using who in a sentence like ‘Whom are you going out with?’ (even when they know it’s whom).

I’m making a point here that whom definitely exists and grammar lovers appreciate the correct use of who and whom.

How I learnt the difference was to leave a blank in the question and fill it up with either whom or who after answering the question with he or him. It works, wanna try?

_____ made the cake?
_____ did she hire to mow the lawn?
You referred _____ in the meeting?
_____ disclosed the truth to the owner?

Answers: who, whom, whom, who.

But as much as I love this grammar rule and use it, I have a strong feeling whom will disappear from our dictionaries soon because many feel its usage sounds odd sometimes even when being technically correct. What do you feel?

For me every grammar rule is worth knowing. You never know … you may impress someone with your superb knowledge of some very basic grammar. After all, little things do make a difference.