Media: Singular or Plural?

Within the space of a week, Peter Mansbridge, anchor of CBC’s The National, and co-anchor Wendy Mesley have accompanied media with singular verbs when presenting a panel or an upcoming story in future broadcasts. Last night was no exception.

In preparation for a discussion about the way in which the media are covering the ongoing ISIS[1] crisis, Mansbridge asked this opening question:

“Is the media doing its job in covering the story?”

My first reaction to hearing this was “No, Peter! Media is a plural noun and should be followed or preceded by plural verbs!”

Yes, you read correctly. Media is a plural, even though it doesn’t take the traditional form of –s or –es. According to Dictionary.com, media takes its roots from Latin and is the plural of medium.[2] In the late sixteenth century, medium was defined as “a middle ground, quality, or degree.” At the turn of the seventeenth century, the definition was expanded: “intermediate agency, channel of communication.”[3] This was used to describe the plural noun media in the 1920s: “newspapers, radio, TV, etc.”[4]

Although debate exists in some circles about following media by singular verbs to specifically refer to mass media,[5][6] the word remains a plural noun. As writers, I would advise you to edit out singular verbs and precede/follow media by plural verbs.

Mansbridge should have asked:

Are the media doing their job in covering the [ISIS] story?”

To recap: are + media + interrogative predicate OR media + are + rest of predicate. Similarly, bacteria and criteria are plural nouns. Singular forms are bacterium and criterion, respectively.

Much can be said about singular or plural usage of data, but I’ll leave that topic for another post.

[1] Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (also known as ISIL = Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant)

[2] “Media.” 2014. Dictionary.com Web. 8 October 2014. Path: Media, Latin. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/media>

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Media.” 2014. Merriam-Webster.com Web. 8 October 2014. Path: Media, Latin. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/media>

[6] “Media, medium.” Published date unknown. English-Word Information: Word Info about English Vocabulary Web. 8 October 2014. Path: Media, Medium, Latin. <http://wordinfo.info/unit/3588/s:a%20neuter%20noun%20meaning>

2 comments

  1. Hi Dwain,

    I just discovered your blog today and I’ll admit that I agree with you on most things. I teach English as a Second Language online and run up against a lot of the same issues as you address on your site.

    Since English is a living language, it’s normal to see changes and we are seeing a transformation of irregular plurals (especially those with Latin-based forms) becoming considered non-count nouns with a singular form.

    As for the question of “Is the media…” or “Are the media…” I see it as being similar to the word “data.” In theory, at least, data is the irregular plural of “datum” so purists will say “these data indicate…” instead of “this data indicates…” To my ear, the latter is much more natural, even though, in theory, “data” is plural. However, I have rarely, if ever, heard the word “datum” in normal conversation. Very few people use “medium” as the singular of “media” anymore since now there is a mix of podcasts (audio), videos and written articles on almost all informational websites.

    Other examples of changing normal usage would be “octopi” being replaced by “octopuses” and “hippopotami” by “hippopotamuses.” We baby-boomers laughed at those who used those regular plurals as being ignorant, but today they are widely accepted (https://www.lexico.com/explore/what-are-the-plurals-of-octopus-hippopotamus-syllabus) and the purists are more and more considered to be elite snobs.

    I think the question comes down to a choice between the traditional and modern schools of English. One one hand, we want things to be correct /traditional, but on the other hand, there comes a time when we have to give in to the inevitable and go with the modern majority.

    I’d be curious to know if the CBC has an official standard guide when it comes to grammar and style, as usually they have higher standards than privately-held broadcasters.

    1. I’m not aware of any specific style guide the CBC or any other outlet uses (aside from, probably, Canadian Press). It would be worth finding out. 🙂

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