Criteria and criterion are two words that show the evolution of modern English.
Strictly defined, the word criterion is a singular noun, and criteria is the plural form.
However, it is rare to see this applied in writing today.
Unless you are a stickler for accuracy in your writing, the plural form is now generally used as a singular noun.
How to use criteria and criterion correctly
You don’t often come across the word criterion.
But if you want to improve your writing and be grammatically accurate, it’s a word worth keeping in mind.
Here’s the strict definition.
A criterion is a principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided.
As you can see, it is a singular noun that we use when there is only one standard to apply to a decision.
When there are multiple standards or elements to making a decision, we can use the plural form.
A successful candidate must meet at least four out of five of our criteria for the position.
Once you know the difference, it’s easy to get these two words right.
Criteria and criterion in the media
However, when you look for these words in the media and online, you can see how language and grammar evolve.
In this exchange on CNN, you can see the word criteria in use in both singular and plural senses.
Over the last few days, the European Ambassadors have been going back and forth, but they finally established a list of criteria, and as you were saying, the most important among them is an epidemiological one.
And our sources have told us, look, the conversation starts and ends with only one thing, one criteria, and that is the health of European countries. Source: CNN transcripts.
But here is an example of correct use on CNN.
Moreover, the prestige of an academic program does not constitute the exclusive criterion by which a school should be (or is) judged.
From the BBC, here is the correct use of both words.
Granting a declaration, the judge stated: “The adoption and use of criterion (iv) in the respondent’s admissions criteria for admission to Year 8 in the 2021/22 academic year was unlawful, void and of no force or effect.
But the BBC doesn’t always get it correct.
The ability to walk more than 20m is one criteria for the higher mobility rate of PIP.
As you can see from these examples, the grammar rule is not hard and fast in the media.
Similar words with rare singular forms
A handful of words derive from Greek or Latin that have singular and plural forms.
However, in everyday use, we rarely see the singular form.
Agenda and agendum
Agenda is the plural of agendum in Latin. But in modern English, agenda is a singular noun with a standard plural form of agendas.
Data and datum
Data is the plural of datum, which refers to one piece of information.
However, we now use the word data as a mass or uncountable noun like the nouns information or furniture.
Referendum and referenda
You will rarely see the plural referenda, but it is correct. In general, the word referendums is now the accepted plural.
Other words with rare plural forms.
Bacteria and bacterium
Curriculum and curricula
Stadium and stadia
Alumna and alumnae
You don’t have to be pedantic
Accepted use is usually enough to get your word choice right.
But if you want to be 100% correct and avoid writing mistakes, it pays to check your usage of these types of words.
I doubt any reader would complain about you using criteria as a singular noun in your writing.
But if you want to impress, maybe it would be better to use criterion.
Vocabulary and grammar are always work in progress for a writer.
It doesn’t matter if you are a new or experienced writer; you are constantly learning.
While the words and examples in this article are probably rareties, it is still worth knowing how to use them.
Learning a little every day is the best way to become a better writer.