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Is It Correct to Say “These Data”?

Many English words are rooted in Latin and result in plurals that end in “a.” As such, they cause confusion around how we should treat them grammatically. In addition, these words often shift from the original plural, which affects how we use them.

It is technically correct to say “these data” if we are talking about multiple pieces of information, particularly if they are scientific. However, modern usage has led “data” to become an uncountable noun, meaning we can also use it in the singular and say, “this data.” So, “This data is sufficient” is more acceptable.

This article will look in detail at “data,” what it means, and how to use it. We will also explore alternatives that reduce confusion. Furthermore, we’ll look at count and noncount nouns and consider the use of demonstrative pronouns such as “these” to strengthen your understanding of the broader grammar underlying “these data.”

What Does “These Data” Mean?

We define “data” as collected information, especially numbers and facts. It can also refer to electronic information stored by a computer (source). The pronoun “these,” which is the plural of “this,” points to which data we are referencing.

The word “data” originated as far back as the 1640s and is the plural of the Latin word datum, meaning “fact given.” Initially, it referred to a fact given that one could use to calculate mathematical or scientific calculations. But by 1900, it came to refer to numerical facts that one collected for reference purposes (source).

In modern life, the word “data” has separated itself from the singular “datum,” which we rarely use. When we use it nowadays, we use it in the following two ways:

  • As a plural noun that takes a plural verb and/or modifier
  • As a noncount noun that takes a singular verb and/or modifier

In formal academic publications, you’ll most likely see the plural construction “these data,” and in conversation or informal written material, you will see the singular structure “this data” (source).

When we refer to “data” as a noncount or mass noun, we refer to it as one thing where we cannot count the individual units. In this case, its meaning is somewhat similar to “information.”

  • This data is sensitive.
  • This information is sensitive.

However, when we refer to “data” as the plural of “datum,” we are implying that it comprises distinct pieces of collected information.

  • The data are carefully organized in the database.

How Do You Use “These Data”?

We use “these data” to refer to specific numerical or scientific facts that have been collected. Most often, we use “these data” in an academic environment. When using “these data,” we always use plural verbs and modifiers.

When we say “these data,” we are using the plural determiner “these,” which signifies that the noun that follows (data) is plural. If it were singular, then we would say “this data.” Because it is plural, we will always follow “these data” with a plural verb, as shown in the sentences below.

  • These data show a decrease in the park’s bear population.
  • In conclusion, these data reveal significant changes since the previous period. 

We can use any plural modifiers with “data” when referring to it as a plural. This includes words like “these” and “many.” In the case of “data,” we don’t use a cardinal number before it, so saying “three data” would be incorrect. Instead, you would say, “three pieces of data.”

Conversely, when we refer to data in the modern, non-scientific context as a mass noun, we use it with singular verbs and modifiers. 

  • This data shows a decrease in the park’s bear population.
  • In conclusion, this data reveals significant change since the previous period. 

It’s most common to see the plural construction in print because many official style guides dictate that usage. The APA Style Guide, for example, is very clear on the matter, saying, “…the word datum is singular, and the word data is plural. Plural nouns take plural verbs, so data should be followed by a plural verb” (source).

However, this is changing, and The Wall Street Journal, amongst others, has decided to move away from the plural construction, acknowledging that “…singular verbs now are often used to refer to collections of information: Little data is available to support the conclusions (source).”

As a result, it’s almost up to the individual whether to use “these data” or “this data.” If in doubt, you’re always safest with the formal “these data,” but conversationally, it’s more common to hear “this data.” 

When Can You Use “These Data”?

You can use “these data” any time you refer to specific scientific pieces of information. For example, in a formal environment, you often use “these data” in written or spoken academic material.

Because the phrase “these data” references specific information, this information must be available to the listener or reader. You would, therefore, only use “these data” when pointing to particular pieces of information that the listener is aware of. For example, you might say something like:

  • These data help to prove our theory.
  • It’s clear that these data are no longer relevant.

In an informal or unscientific setting, we would more likely use the more colloquial “this data,” as shown in the examples below.

  • This data is inconsistent with our expectations.
  • I’ve considered this data in determining my conclusion.

Interestingly, the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) lists 3515 uses of “these data” compared with 2403 uses of “this data” (source). These frequency lists capture the top 60,000 words in the corpus.

In What Context Can You Use “These Data”?

Almost always, “these data” will be found in academic or scientific material, both spoken and written. In any other context, it’s much more common to use more colloquial construction, “this data.” 

Image by Louis Reed via Unsplash

Therefore, the environment in which you would use “these data” is most likely formal and academic. Any academic writing or presentation, as well as any formal scientific environment, necessitates this construction.

Conversely, in everyday conversation and even more in business usage outside of academia, you’re more likely to hear “this data.”

When Not to Use “These Data”

You should not use “these data” when you are not referring to multiple pieces of collected information. If it is just one piece of scientific information, you should use “this datum.” If it is “data” in the ordinary sense of generalized knowledge, then you would use “this data.”

Although you would not be wrong to say “these data” outside of a scientific context, it would sound oddly formal and is not how people speak in everyday conversation.

What Can You Use Instead of “These Data”?

You can always use alternatives if you are unsure whether to say “this data” or “these data.” Sometimes it is easier to use a synonym and therefore avoid the risk of getting it wrong. 

Let’s consider some alternatives for “These data are important in our research,” which are all acceptable, depending on context.

  • These details are important in our research.
  • These facts are important in our research.
  • These pieces of information are important in our research.
  • This information is important in our research.
  • This intelligence is important in our research.
  • These statistics are important in our research.
  • These figures are important in our research.

Using “These Data” in a Full Sentence

We could find “these data” at a sentence’s beginning, middle, or end. However, you will mostly find “these data” in sentences contained in academic or scientific material.

Consider the examples below:

  • We based our survey on these data
  • These data were used to prove our theory.
  • Consider these data before you form a conclusion.
  • These data form the basis of our research.

You may also use “these data” as part of a phrase where “data” is part of a two-word concept, such as “data point” or “data set.” Here, you may say something like the following:

  • We considered these data points in our study.
  • We processed these data sets last night.

Count vs. Noncount Nouns

We use nouns to name or identify things, and there are two types of nouns: count and noncount. As the name implies, you can count countable nouns (one jacket, two books, etc.), but you cannot count noncount nouns because they refer to qualities, items, or concepts that are impossible to quantify (source).

Image by Crissy Jarvis via Unsplash

Because of this, most noncount nouns don’t have a plural form. Instead, they include words like love, sugar, information, or steel. To learn more about using words like this, read our article Is It Correct to Say “These Information”?

In the case of “data,” it is technically a plural form of the original Latin but has evolved into a noncount noun. There are many essential rules around count and noncount nouns to learn for fluent English usage. These are primarily around the use of articles before the noun.

You cannot use noncount nouns with indefinite articles “a” or “an” or any cardinal number. They can take the definite article “the” when referring to something specific (“the sugar on the table” or “the advice he gave me”), but not if you are referring to something general or unspecific (“sugar is very expensive” or “I hate asking for advice”).

Count nouns can take indefinite articles when they are unspecific (“a duck” or “an apple”). Likewise, they can also take definite articles or cardinal numbers when they are specific (“the duck” or “the apple”).

Some nouns can be count and noncount, depending on the context (source). This includes words like “life” or “food.” For more on count and noncount nouns, read our article Food vs. Foods: What’s the Difference?

Demonstrative Pronouns

In “these data,” “data” is a noncount noun, while “these” is a determiner because it points to which data we are referring to. However, when we use “these” without a noun following it, it is a pronoun because it takes the place of a noun.

“These” is always demonstrative, meaning that it demonstrates which one or ones we refer to, whether we use it as a pronoun or a determiner (adjective). There are four demonstrative pronouns in English:

  • This
  • That
  • These
  • Those 

We use these words to indicate a known object the speaker refers explicitly to – one that exists or existed. All pronouns stand in for nouns, such as “she” or “it,” but demonstrative pronouns are more specific because they indicate where the noun is or was (source).

When something is singular, we use “this” or “that.” When something is plural, we use “these” or “those.” When we use “this” or “these,” we indicate that the object (or objects) is present near the speaker. When we use “that” or “those,” we indicate that the object (or objects) is out of reach or in the past.

Consider the sentences below that illustrate this:

  • This is too big for me.
  • These are very dirty.
  • That is definitely not true!
  • Those belong to me.

In all these cases, we don’t know what the pronoun stands for because we don’t have the surrounding context to fill in the meaning.

Demonstrative Adjectives

If we changed these demonstrative pronouns into demonstrative adjectives (determiners), our meaning would be easier to understand. Demonstrative adjectives specify which person, thing, idea, or place is referred to by distance from the speaker.

  • This shirt is too big for me.
  • These windows are very dirty.
  • That story is definitely not true!
  • Those shoes belong to me.

However, when we use demonstrative pronouns (as in the first set of sentences), we know the referent from the context of the discussion or situation around us.

Final Thoughts

Having now examined “these data” from every angle, hopefully, you’re clear on when it would be correct to use “these data” and when you should say “this data.” If in doubt, “these data” is never wrong. However, if you want to sound a bit more like a native English speaker, it’s best to understand the nuances of using “data” in various contexts.

By now, you should have gained a greater understanding of noncount nouns, which will help your fluency in using demonstrative pronouns and adjectives correctly. Remember: if you can’t count something, never use it as a plural. In that case, we’d use the singular demonstrative pronouns “this” and “that” to refer to it.