What's the accepted way to use "criterion", "criteria", "criterions"?

30

In many publications, especially IT related, I find lots of expressions with criteria e.g.

  • What is your criteria ...
  • What are your criteria ...
  • What are your criterias ...

English dictionary says that criteria (or criterions) is a plural form of criterion. However, I never found sentences like "What is your criterion ..." or "What are your criterions ..."

Can you explain what is the correct usage of criteria.

Are criterions and criterion still in use in modern English or they have become obsolete?

Tom

Posted 2013-01-24T00:49:08.930

Reputation: 2 951

Answers

10

Criteria is a bit of an unusual word—while it is formally considered plural, it is often used as if it were singular. Using it as singular, though, is considered nonstandard, so beware of that.

Criterion is uncommon and criterions is rare, but neither are so rarely used that I would consider them obsolete.

So

  • What are your criteria? - OK - are goes with plural words
  • What is your criteria? - maybe OK - if you're comfortable with criteria being singular
  • What is your criterion? - OK - criterion is always singular—but remember that someone might have multiple criteria
  • What are your criterias? - not OK - if/when criteria is treated as singular, is it used as a mass noun
  • What are your criterions? - OK - but rare

waiwai933

Posted 2013-01-24T00:49:08.930

Reputation: 3 277

2I think criteria is like data in this regard. – Kit Z. Fox – 2013-01-24T01:10:20.297

1

This reasoning may fit ELU -- but is not advisable on ELL at all. cf. http://ell.stackexchange.com/a/160/99

– Kris – 2013-01-24T05:55:46.287

@Kris What reasoning, and why on Earth not? – waiwai933 – 2013-01-24T05:58:15.557

@waiwai933 I was pointing at your reasoning in the answer. An OP on ELL expects to learn. Providing a complex unhelpful answer with no citations or reference to an ELL-level source? – Kris – 2013-01-24T06:02:10.293

2@Kris Well, I don't think it's particularly complex—I talk about criteria, criterion and criterions for three sentences, and then address the OP's examples. I'll add Wiktionary links to the first two paragraphs, but not everything necessarily needs to be cited 100% of the time. – waiwai933 – 2013-01-24T06:55:58.820

3Criterion is not unusual. See this Google Ngram. – Ben Kovitz – 2016-05-23T14:39:06.830

18

Criteria is plural, criterion is singular. That's just the way it is, if you want to sound educated. Consider that it's an awfully erudite word to throw around in an illiterate manner.

Robusto

Posted 2013-01-24T00:49:08.930

Reputation: 13 739

4+1 Many pedants such as myself care about using foreign plurals as in the source language where appropriate. Authenticity and consistency are basic principles of literary style and of style in general. In Greek, the singular is criterion, the plural criteria. In the large majority of cases, using the correct plural and singular forms as in Greek and Latin is preferred in educated style, as Rob says. – Cerberus – 2013-01-24T07:50:38.943

1I'd like to add that I think part of the reason criterion is so rare is just this: how often do you actually have a single criterion? Most of the time when a situation necessitates the use of the word criteria, you have more than one. I'd be hard-pressed to think of a common, real-life sitation in which something has a single criterion. – WendiKidd – 2013-02-05T00:33:33.000

To me (native AmE), criterion does not sound erudite. It's just an ordinary word. Criterias sounds ignorant and pretentious. Different people perceive these things differently, of course. – Ben Kovitz – 2016-05-23T14:37:21.907

4@WendiKidd: "Our sole criterion for buying that [something] was [some reason]." You hear constructions like that all the time. So the singular is not rare, nor even uncommon. – Robusto – 2014-03-08T18:30:48.563

2

Since the word is of Greek origin and I am Greek I can definitely say that

  • criterion is singular, and

  • criteria is plural

exactly as in Greek, unlike other Greek words used in English which are completely embedded in the English grammar (like idea, problem, system, and photography).

kostas xagoraris

Posted 2013-01-24T00:49:08.930

Reputation: 21

2English has a habit of changing the spelling and words it takes from other languages. Just because it is a certain way in Greek does not mean it is that way in English. I'm not saying you're wrong, just that your reasoning is flawed. – ColleenV – 2016-05-23T17:01:56.037

1

Criteria is used in business/office communications, for instance in Tender and Quotation requests. The main place I see it used relates to employment offers which will often contain a document detailing the Selection Criteria, and one of the main parts of the application will be responding to these criteria.

Criterion, in my experience, is rarely used outside of discussion involving the criteria that the criterion is part of. For instance, the employment application might say: "As mentioned in the first criterion, I can ...", or "I have responded to the marketing criterion as well as the public relations criterion in this paragraph as they ...".

There is nothing erudite about the use of either the plural or singular in this context.

mcalex

Posted 2013-01-24T00:49:08.930

Reputation: 6 050