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Grammar: Indexes vs. Indices September 28, 2006

Posted by federalist in Language.
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The plural of the noun index should always be indices. This handily distinguishes it from the present tense of the verb index, which can only be indexes.

E.g., “The investor indexes his many holdings so that he can easily cross-reference them against his benchmark indices.”

Regrettably, the Wall Street Journal, among others, does not follow this strict rule and will accept both indexes and indices as the plural of the noun index.

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Comments»

1. Bob - March 1, 2007

Quite being an English elitiste. If the wall street journal says something is done a certain way, then you should listen and obay. Thats all I have to say.

Joseph - July 26, 2011

Are you an idiot?

Null - February 21, 2012

he spelled elitist as elitiste so the answer to your question should be obvious lol

Bob for Lord Chamberlain! - November 25, 2016

Though I am very late to the party (so much so that everone else seems to have long packed up and gone home), I would just like to say that I thouroughly enjoyed this comment, whose point I believe was missed by the vast majority of the previous respondents, who seemed to have forgotten their sense of humour. Just a couple of the errors were enough to convince me that four or five, at least, of hte seven errors, were entirely intentional and wholly humorous. Well done; a bloody good joke, with the perfect bait, swallowed hook, line and sinker :)

Bob for Lord Chamberlain! - November 25, 2016

Bonus points for anybody who can point out the two spelling erors, two or three grammatical errors and one stylistic misstep :)

2. Lauren - June 1, 2007

You can “obay” the WSJ – I will obey my grammar teacher. Also, note that the comment says that the WSJ “does not follow” the rule and “will accept” either version – slightly different from laying down the law and stating that it must be done a certain way, they are simply less stringent.

Oh, and in addition to “obay” being “obey,” Quit (as in to quit your job) is not spelled quite (quite hot out today), and elitist doesn’t have an “e” on the end. If you’re going to slam someone else’s grammar, you should get your own spelling right.

john - February 9, 2010

yaay girl, right on

Davur - June 17, 2010

I know this was 3 years ago, but none the less, that is some quality trash talk. Bob got pawned.

Guest - October 19, 2011

“pwned” not “pawned”

pawn: deposit as security
pwn: what I do to n00bs in halo reach

hth

3. Fan of Bob - October 6, 2007

Perhaps it was meant as more of a creative poem – implying that the author was being “quite” an English “elitiste” (opting for the French spelling of the word for greater emphasis.) Rhyming “obey” with “say” is further strengthened by the spelling “obay” – though I would have thought using “obay” and “sey” even more creative. I look forward to discovering a full collection of Bob’s work someday…

I’ll continue to use “indexes” in all cases so at not to alienate others. I will also continue to cut large pieces of sushi in half to ease mastication.

Joseph - July 26, 2011

No, it’s clear Bob is a complete idiot who doesn’t deserve a say.

4. Tim - November 27, 2007

Congratulations Bob, you got a bite.

5. firefly1234 - February 19, 2008

puh-lease…… my vote is with Lauren – poet or not.

6. Dawn - March 2, 2008

Cut large pieces of sushi in half? Now that is blasphemy, my friend!

7. Frank - March 18, 2008

Lauren definitely ate all that and possibly a bag of potato chips. Hats off to Bob for getting here first and dropping his hook.

And I agree with Dawn; learn to eat your sushi properly :)

8. Apologist for Bob - March 26, 2008

I think Bob was merely being ironic, like using some reverse psychology. He says, basically, don’t be grammatic elitist and be flexible in grammar (in this case, spelling) while deliberately using bad grammar to say it… to show that good spelling actually matters.

Why do I think this was his intent? Because the grammatical “errors” are too obvious. One can naturally misspell “quite” but not “obay”… there is just no such word. He could have easily rhymed “obey”, “say” and “way” without having to misspell “obay”.

So, no Lauren… he wasn’t slamming anybody else’s grammar. Dat’s wut eye tink.

Juju - November 24, 2011

It is clear that Bob was being ironic. Come on, people!

9. Francois Botha - June 7, 2008

Ignorants forget that spelling rules exist so to *improve* communication between people, instead of hampering it.

Just think of the big mixup with HTTP Referer vs HTTP Referrer. Due to Bob-like people, I now have to google it everytime to make sure which version to check for… only to find that the wrongly spelt version is the winner.

Spelling rules aren’t always consistent. Compare “through” with “threw”, but they provide a common reference so that we all (supposedly) write the same way.

The odd mistake, like Bob’s “obay” and “quite”, are negligible enough not to distort our perception of his intention, but where is it going to end if we adopt an attitude of not caring about spelling?

Imagine a world where people randomly use “through” and “threw” and other homophones. Chaos!

By the way, I agree with the author; if a verb “indexes” didn’t already exist, it might not be such a transgression, but people who use “indexes” are opening themselves to ambiguity.

PS: English is my second language and I’m even more fussy about grammar errors in Afrikaans (my first language) that occur due to English’s influence.

10. Antony - August 15, 2008

Spelling and grammar rules are very important in computer science. I am South African, and we spell the American ‘color’ with a ‘u’ – as in ‘colour’. For programming purposes, however, I stick to the American conventions. I was led to this article in an attempt to find the right way to name a variable holding multiple index values. Indicies is what I’m going with.

11. carl - August 15, 2008

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum

12. proofreader - October 10, 2008

Dear Federalist,

You are so very, very wrong, sir.

“Indices” has two wholly separate meanings. In mathematics when given an expression 3[radical sign]125, read as “the cube root of 125,” the value 125 is a radicand existing under a radical of which 3 is the index. (Just so there is no misunderstanding, we are talking about an expression for which the solution is 5.) If you were given a series of such expressions, you would have multiple indices on your hands. Also, statisticians speak of indices as figures used to compare a value to a standard; i.e., Jack is reading a price index, and Jill is reading a different price index; together, they are reading price indices.

Therefore, if we follow your logic, “indices” should always be set aside for mathematical purposes since we very well can’t call more than one index of many radicals “indexes.” One ought always, then, use “indexes” to refer to that which appear in the back of books. (Or to the present tense of the verb, as you pointed out.)

If your point is to be pedantic, I win. I can be more pedantic than you. I think I have sufficiently demonstrated my prodigious powers of pedantistry here. (Anything you can pedantic, I can pedantic better. I can be infinitely more pedantic than you. Yes I can. Yes I can, yes I can, yes I can!)

But where does that leave us?

How about we acknowledge that rules were created to describe existing language; language was not created following immutable rules. Nothing must “always be” anything. The Wall Street Journal need not, and ought not, follow any strict rule–especially where none exists.

There is no consensus as to the spelling of the plural of “index.” The Associated Press Stylebook unequivocally prescribes “indexes” in all cases as the plural of the noun “index,” directly in contrast to your mandate, while the Chicago Manual of Style accepts both variants, as does Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

My point is: Stop being so pedantic and learn to love the bomb.

Guest - December 6, 2011

Dear Federalist,

If your point is to be douchey, you win. I can’t be more douchey than you. I think you have sufficiently demonstrated your prodigious powers of doucheyness here. (Anything I can douche-up, you can douche-up better. You can be infinitely more douchey than me. Yes you can. Yes you can, yes you can, yes you can!)

The difference between ‘indexes’ and ‘indices’ that federalist was pointing out is that ‘indexes’ can be interpreted as a noun and a present tense of the verb ‘ to index’. ‘Indices’, however, can not be confused in such a manner.

In your second paragraph, you wrote the following: “…you would have multiple indices on your hands. Also, statisticians speak of indices as figures … together, they are reading price indices.” In all cases, ‘indices’ is used as a noun.
It doesn’t matter what the meaning of the word is. The term could be used in construction, programming, and medicine, and it still wouldn’t matter. The term would be used as a noun and not a verb.

My point is: Stop being so douchey and learn to read.

With regards,
Guest

Eddie - March 19, 2012

“I think I have sufficiently demonstrated my prodigious powers of pedantistry here. ”

mmmh….I believe the word is “pedantry” :-D

13. another proofreader and editor - October 29, 2008

dear proofreader,

well said, sir, bravo, etc.

14. vesna - December 4, 2008

Dear all,

so, what’s the point of learning grammar if everybody is going to start making thier own rules? What are we, poor sods from abroad trying to make sense of what you are telling us, to do if you are going to be so flexible about the ways your language works?

ps.
Now try reading all this with small letteres and no punctuation.

Cheers!

15. Juno5 - March 10, 2009

Dear proofreader,

The explanation offered by Federalist is clearer and more correct than the corner case you cite. In matters of grammatical correctness, you can’t use a completely different field of study, mathematics in this case, to support a matter that requires grammatical oversight. Our best resources in this case are not forums, chat rooms, or the WSJ but good old dictionaries and grammar texts. I am sure other fields of study might also use index, indexes and indices in ways different, albeit incorrect, from their intended grammatical usage.

I think Bob is the typical Internet poster and not a poet; too many mistakes and not enough poetry. Lauren is right in her observations but let me add that Bob also missed the correct punctuation of “That’s”.

Regards.

16. Weasel of Spelling - May 15, 2009

I just noticed that SQL Server uses “Indexes” as a plural for Index … after reading everyones comments … I canned myself and realised you are a bunch of noobs who probably cry to your mommies when you need your blankets :)

… plaese cnat we all be fiernds …

17. neilmac - October 14, 2009

Not a lot of help here then. I’m sticking with “indices” for now for the noun form.

18. Mike Kamermans - November 13, 2009

Always a current discussion, no matter when it’s posted…

Language changes. This is a good thing and a bad thing, but it also means that a few decades ago you were right, and today you are wrong. currently, both “indexes” and “indices” are accepted as plural form of “index”. English, unlike for instance French, has no body that dictates what the language has to look like, and so what people use, is the language. In both current American English and British English “indexes” is as legal a plural form as “indices”. Move with the times. Personal preference is fine, but you, nor anyone for that matter, can claim there is a “rule” in this case. The only rule that can be said to really exist is “whatever the majority of the English speakers use for longer than two years, because then it makes it into the dictionary”.

To all comments readers, welcome to English 101 – the language has always been in flux (do enjoy “Our Mother Tongue” by Bryson). It’s what has made it so diverse, and is keeping it diverse.

I prefer indices, unless I’m talking about a book with multiple sections marked “index”. In this context, the word “index” represents a composite concept, not a single word or “key” on which something is looked up; instead a book’s “index” comprises a list of “indices”.

19. Mike Kamermans - November 13, 2009

Apologies, “The Mother Tongue” by Bryson. “Our Mother Tongue” is by Wilson, and really not as interesting a read ;)

20. Another Word Dependant - November 22, 2009

I came across this blog, Just like Antony searching for an answer! I always used Indices, as learned in old IBM school. Good friend and a colleague from highly reputed university wrote indexes in his documentation, so I thought
I should verify my grammar and ended up here.

I agree with federalist and will continue using Indices.

Apologist for Bob -(Dat’s wut eye tink), Let us see where texting will take us in 10 years :)

She who shall be OBAYED - January 9, 2010

it’s fricken “indices” and a nice slice of chocolate cake should NOT be described as “decadent”.

21. Benjamin Keil - March 9, 2010

I came to this article wondering if other people share my view that some uses of the noun “index” call for a plural “indexes” and some other uses call for “indices”. I was pleased to find that Mike Kamermans had the same idea — more than one “composite index” are “indexes”; more than one “simplex index” are “indices.”

22. Gregory - March 10, 2010

We will find out at the end of this decade, that is.. the one ending this year (since no one ever counted the year zero), whether the decade ended this year, or last. And then, what years we decide to index for this decade will be changed or not.

23. Sam Martinez - June 16, 2010

Old as this thread may be, I must concur with Lauren; indices is proper for the plural form of the noun – the index. Indexes is proper as the current tense of the verb – to index.

He indexes his recipes. He is indexing his recipes. He indexed his recipes. His recipes can be found in the national recipe index. His recipes can be found in the national and international indices.

By the way “Bob,” “Fan of Bob,” and “Apologist for Bob” are obviously all the same person. Notice the patterns of speech in each post and the numerous, simple, grammatical errors within each post.

24. Nina - June 28, 2010

Why not the use the good old Oxford dictionary as arbiter? My Canadian version says:

Index – noun (pl. indexes or esp. in technical use indices…). Nor does Oxford change the plural when it comes to the transitive verb to index.

Like Mike Kamermans, I don’t believe it is up to us to lay down strict rules of what we believe it should be. The English language is in constant evolution. No matter how much I may rail at the use of “if it was” for the subjunctive rather than “if it were”, I realize I must resign myself to not correcting it each time I see it. According to a book written by a group from Cambridge University (Someone stole my copy so I am unable to give the exact reference. It is a book that looked at the English language as it is spoken around the world today and gave the most oft-used rule in all those countries.), the “wrong” form is the most prevalent and, to my great disappointment, my preferred form is now relegated to a side box like yesteryear’s castaway.

By the way, I chuckled when I read Bob’s clearly — to me anyway — facetious remark, deliberate misspellings and all…and no, I am NOT Bob again!

25. Kenneth John Odle - November 18, 2010

I realize that the OED and others are flexible on this point, but I like the distinction being made between “indices” (the noun) and “indexes” (the verb) — although some will bristle at the use of the word “index” as a verb. (Incidentally, the OED notes this use as far back as 1843, which is relatively recent.)

It is far more important, whether you use “indices” or “indexes”, that your writing is clear enough that your meaning is clear from your context. (And free of misspelled words to boot!)

26. Reginald D. Thursbee - December 17, 2010

I have tertiary syphilis.

27. Juan Valdez - April 19, 2011

I agree with the proofreader. This isn’t Latin, and we don’t even pluralize borrowed words using the rules of their original language, so why donate a special pluralization to an unambiguous English word? Not at all necessary. Mathematicians can get away with “indices” because they often borrow from Greek and Latin as they see fit, but never is the original grammatical usage relevant to their symbology. English has enough rules, and the only reason to break them is for expression or disambiguation, and neither is applicable enough to require converting “indexes” to “indices”.

28. `English` - April 29, 2011

I applaud Bob`s efforts. English is an ever growing language. Who knows, in years to come the language of `American` may evolve. Then ya can stop f@ckin Inglish up !

29. Aaron - May 4, 2011

I have it on good authority that Bob is a tool.

I was just as shocked as the rest of you.

@Juan Valdez: “index” is a Latin loanword in vanilla English just as much as it is in Mathematics. You could apply the same logic to a great many words in English- why not just use a simple -s or -es for all plurals? Could I get away with using “indice” for the singular?

Why not ditch fungi, deer, mice, and babies for funguses, deers, mouses, and babyes? Honest question- what is special about index/indices that we should abandon correct and traditional plural spellings for whatever any individual feels like using?

@`English`: What’s with the backticks (`)?.

My own take? Indexes/indices doesn’t matter all that much. You see a lot of both used when describing financial indices, SQL indices, etc. Random fact: Firefox marks “indices” is misspelt, but indexes is OK. Just seems too late to drop the Grammar Hammer and make any real difference.

Kristy - January 27, 2012

It’s indexes in SQL (except in extremely rare cases, such as referring to a result set, ie, mathematics.) For verification of this, one simply has to read any database book or Microsoft’s/Oracle’s/etc information on the matter. This is not an example of “IT making their own grammar rules”, but more that the grammar rules have exceptions (as does a multitude of grammar) and they show up frequently in IT situations. Not surprising, since indexes and indices are frequently used in IT, both having very different meanings and both being correct. The confusion comes when IT people write about it and do not know the difference, thus spreading the problem.

For further verification, these rules are actually in many grammar books, although certainly not all as some of these concepts did not exist when many grammar books were originally written. If memory serves, indexes is proper as a plural noun in grammar when referring as a pointer – which would apply for books and SQL index construct. Regardless, with SQL, indexes is almost always correct when referring to the structural part (having multiple indexes on a table) UNLESS you are referring to a result set. There is probably an additional exception, but I can’t think of one at the moments since 99% of the time indexes is the context that I need in my professional environment.

I’m a 15+ year database expert and cringe every time I here a person use the indices version when they really mean indexes. Actually, since this comes up so frequently, I’m thinking this would actually be a great blog topic for me to write with official grammar rules cited in full force. Stay tuned…

federalist - January 27, 2012

Good point: I also do a lot of database work and almost never see “indices” used as the plural in that context. But that doesn’t make it right — look how often “data” is used as a singular noun form in technical literature.

Consider the following SQL discussion: “The table has two non-clustered indices, in addition to the foreign key index which indexes on the primary key column of the new normalized table.” Isn’t it helpful to distinguish the verb from the plural noun?

Kristy - January 27, 2012

@federalist – (Sorry, had to reply to mine because I don’t see a reply link on yours.) That’s my point, “indexes” is correct as a plural noun as well. There are many authoritative grammatical references that state this. (I’ll give examples later once I pull together time to write up a blog on it.)

Additionally, “data” actually CAN be used correctly as a singular noun or as its alternative, datum; depends on if it is used as a count noun or a mass noun. The original meaning of datum/data has changed since the 17th century (count noun context originally) and now has evolved in meaning (having count noun or mass noun qualities).

In the example you used “two non-clustered indices” is 100% wrong. The correct terminology is “two non-clustered indexes” with indexes serving as a plural noun. Most DBA’s cringe when they here someone say indices when referring to indexes. In professional SQL user groups, people would assume you are inexperienced if you used that terminology. Hence why I posted here as I feel like someone coming here may be looking for the correct one in context to databases.

As much as I would like to stay on this post today, unfortunately I can not due to workload. I think this would make a great technical blog post and as such I will pull out my old grammar books to properly reference it. Until then – thanks for the post on this that lead to a great discussion!

30. neilmac - May 17, 2011

To say that people “get away with” using “indices” is to subsconsciously betray a desperate need to dumb down the finer points of the language in order to get a handle on it. The easy path leadeth not heavenward.

31. wadson espindola - June 23, 2011

Lauren couldn’t sniff the “satire”in Bob’s wordplay, you got punked!!!

32. darr247 - July 30, 2011

@proofreader … A bomb is a petard, not pedantic.

Pedantic is citing the differences twixt a trebuchet and catapult, instead of paying attention so you don’t get hoist with your own petard.

33. CJ - September 24, 2011

If the majority of contemporary English speakers has decided to throw away one ridiculous exception to the rule, and spell it ‘indexes’ like everyone intuitively wants to instead of ‘indices’ like some pre-Cambrian lizard would, despite the possibility of confusing the noun and the verb (undoubtedly the justification for why this one particular exception was created in the first place), I wholeheartedly support the change, if for no other reason than regarding this one twist in the language, I will never again have to correct the grammar of the poor child to whom? who? which? that? I am speaking.

Hopefully the archaic ‘indices’ will be dropped altogether. Someday I might even stop complaining about run-on sentences and fragments too. Viva Esperanta! And Fem Lib! Neuter all nouns, pronouns, verbs and other grammatical artifices (or is it artifexes?) NOW!

PS what about vertex/vertices? Spandex/Spandices? Timex/Timicies? Where does the madness end? (Yes, I am old enough to remember Spirograph and washing machines with ringers — excuse me, WRINGERS — attached to them). Oh, the horror! P.S. would someone answer the @#$% laundry please?

34. darr247 - September 24, 2011

Well, it’s not just “one” exception. You forgot matrix/matrices for another.

Since you’d like to just abandon traditional rules and spell things however you want, why not apostrophe all possessives – even pronouns – too?

e.g. her’s instead of hers; he’s instead of his; it’s instead of its; et al.

Or abandon all apostrophes and just add ‘es’ to indicate both plurals and possessives.

35. Bob - November 2, 2011

As we all know, a vertex is the angle point where the lines of any given two line segments meet. Needless to say, if there were more than two line segments, you would have at least two vertices.

We can then surmise that if these line segments existed in Kansas, they would be subject to the possibility of being destroyed by a vortex. However, I don’t believe there has ever been an occurrence of line segments being destroyed by several vortices.

But in the end, it is evident we can never solve math or grammar problems with politics.

36. wadson espindola - November 6, 2011

I find this extremely entertaining that this topic is still going… I wanna be able to come back here and see fresh posts from a complete new generation when I’m old and mushy… hehe

37. Laxmiprasad - November 11, 2011
38. November 14, 1982 - November 14, 2011

My view is that if Greek bonds can be given a 50% haircut without triggering a default, and if the EFSF can purchase its own bonds in order to raise capital, then it stands to reason that the correct plural form of index is “inductances.” Damn the torpedos.

39. Cynthia - November 16, 2011

@November 14, 1982

Your view is patently flawed.

It is “Damn the torpedoes,” not torpedos. After all, what are we discussing here?

Darr Darr (@Darr247) - November 16, 2011

Not twin dwarves, certainly.

40. kerry - December 5, 2011

Fun thread! Anyway, someone argued that “language changes”, but it’s also a lazy argument that condones change through sheer laziness and lack of effort. At least *try* to get the word correctly the first time.

Otherwise, we would have “could of” and “should of” as an acceptable phrase because nearly everyone on the Internet seems to write this; people are writing phonetically, which is worrisome. And since people probably don’t say (out loud) “indices”, people probably write “indexes” since that’s what’s spoken more often.

There is a time to argue “language changes” and then there is simply ignorance. What if “architecture changes” and suddenly everything were built out of carved styrofoam simply because it was too hard to remember how to use steel and wood?

41. Trollmaster9001 - December 13, 2011

Good job Bob, your’e a better troll than me.

42. Armand - January 27, 2012

You know, the whole argument about language being alive and language changing with different generations is a fallacious one. It is really only a very short step between using incorrect words for specific meanings in a sentence, and hurling feces at people, grunting, menacingly displaying weapons, and pounding one’s chest as a form of communication. If you don’t believe me, you should visit your local high school gym locker room some time. So by all means, opine as you will but know that there are and always will be concequences to disobeying the rule.

43. wadson espindola - January 30, 2012

I have officially bookmarked this blog, does that make me official?

44. 2102 ,8 yraurbeF - February 9, 2012

…from the smoldering ashes of the ensuing apocalypse that resulted from the miscommunications of the masses, a voice was heard to say “canned we all just get a long?” Naturally, due to improper word usage, the message was misinterpreted and the fighting was prolonged for years.

Darr Darr (@Darr247) - February 9, 2012

Because she was covert in the whirrled peas sheet axed fore, no body pater no mined.

45. the ridger - February 16, 2012

If you are going to confuse a noun and a verb, you have bigger problems than spelling…

46. the ridger - February 16, 2012

(ps: what part of speech is “round”?)

Adamant Speller - February 29, 2012

LOL @ridger…if I use indexes as a plural noun in a sentence, it had better be clear it is not the verb of the sentence.

I came here, like many, to find “the answer” to this question. Unfortunately, I am finding what I always find…more ambiguity…because like many have argued pro and con here, language evolves. This is just a fact. Most of the evolution occurs where diverse cultures mix and it is the children that actually produce a lot of the new words/grammar. This is just a report of facts as relayed to me by someone with a PhD in English.

@Kristy, thanks…I am specifically writing a sentence to refer to the database tables and indexes that I created. Unfortunately, being older with some decent English/Math skills and having been employed in IT for over 20 years, I tend to get tangled up in proper vs. accepted use of words. I would love to see that blog. Also kudos to your shout out for data the mass noun…if I insert 1M new records (yes a single M means million…in any context except the one in my company where people came from the print world…sigh…I’ll convert them eventually) into a table the “this data is new”–not “these data are new.”

I cringe at Olde English spelling that uses “s” instead of “z” but, hey, that’s just me…they can do what they want in their country.

federalist - March 1, 2012

I assume that use of “data” as a singular noun is in cases where “data” is short for “data set?” I.e., you could say “this data set,” but unless the “set” is implied it should always be “these data.”

Adamant Speller - March 1, 2012

Sorry federalist, I think we’ll just disagree here…I subscribe to the common use of data as a mass noun.

federalist - March 1, 2012

You can cite “common use” as an excuse, but that does not mean it is grammatically sound.

Can you formulate an argument or reasoning for why and when “data” should be a mass noun? And what about “datum,” is that then an obsolete noun?

Adamant Speller - March 1, 2012

I cite “common use” as how to use the language in order to communicate, since that is what words and sentences are for. Like indexes vs. indeces, (or those 2 spaces I like to put after my periods) there are rules that are evolving sometimes due to their context and sometimes due to the forces of nature. We can both waste more time locating and citing authoritative sources for both cases and never convince the other to change. I will know what someone means when they say, “The data are…” and they will know what I mean when I say, “The data is…” (and, yes, I’ve also researched the use of they vs. he/she in this sentence and prefer this way).

federalist - March 1, 2012

If you’re only concerned with successful communication then we know that there are many dimensions along which you can perturb grammar and spelling, pronunciation and writing, without jeopardizing a message’s successful comprehension. (What those dimensions and limits are is itself an interesting area of research.)

Heck, you can create an almost rule-less creole, give it to young children, and they will turn it into a proper language.

But since this post is about English grammar the assumption is that you came here because you care something for grounding your language in established rules with a minimum of exceptions.

My question about “data as a mass noun” stands, and you don’t have to cite authorities. (Note that my reasoning on “indexes vs. indices” actually contradicts one notable English authority.) Just cite some compelling precedent, provide a reasonable rule, and/or give some illustrative examples.

I can’t think of any, except for the “data set” example I gave, so although it has become common usage I still find it grating when “data” is used as a singular noun. I’d actually be grateful for a reasoned claim as to why that may be proper.

47. 2222222 - March 13, 2012

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say datum, but I certainly haven’t heard anyone say “the data are”.

I’ve always said the “data has” been deleted, the “data is” missing. The “data are missing” sounds completely incorrect. In fact, up until this point, I would have probably cringed, with a disgusted look on my face if anyone said it. However, I can see how it would be correct — after all, you wouldn’t say “All of the John Does in the world _is_ related”.

I believe that datum would be much better suited. “The datum _are_ being indexed” sounds correct to me. Unfortunately, datum is simply a dead word here in America — at least in my 37 years of living, I don’t recall having heard it said.

I am by no means an authority, but I studied computer science for about 26 years, and am working in the IT field. However, it should be said: I’m an American who dropped out of school in essentially 1st grade and am largely self-educated. I have ADHD, among other learning complications. Believe it or not, I learned most of what I know about English by communicating with people from the UK for 6 years on chat forums. heh

On another note, years ago I decided it would be proper to use a single quote when you are not quoting someone, and in certain other cases. For example, she said “To hell with ‘English’, this is ‘American English'”, and he said “My favorite video game was ‘Pole Position’, and I like to say things like “datum”, but I’m afraid people won’t understand me.” I tend to flip-flop on the double quote sometimes.

Anyway, I expect to get politely slammed and told “the rules are clear for the use of quotes”, or something similar, but there is the off chance that some will find the subject interesting.

Regards

federalist - March 13, 2012

It’s just as well you didn’t study grammar in school — see my post No Wonder I Hated English Classes: As taught in grade school it is simplified to the point that it doesn’t make sense.

However, since you have ADD and some success in IT you will probably find bona fide English grammar as interesting as learning a new type of programming language. As you study the low-level rules and origins of a particular human language you can begin to trace the reasons behind what previously seemed like mysterious and arbitrary exceptions. And you might enjoy forays into principle-based arguments on grammar and usage like mine.

2222222 - March 13, 2012

Thanks, that does sound really interesting! I will take a look.

I didn’t expect such a quick reply.

I returned because I came across “data are” in a sentence this morning at work. Isn’t that always the case… now I’ll be seeing it everywhere.

“Correlations with test data are described that illustrate the performance of the analysis…”

For what it’s worth, in this instance “data are” sounds right to me, because it refers to the correlations.

48. » Word Choice: Indexes or Indices, Forums or Fora? [Mark Welch's Perspective] - March 18, 2012

[…] Grammar: Indexes vs. Indices (“federalist” blog) […]

49. mcbry - April 9, 2012

Having different spellings to clarify the difference between a third person singular verb and a plural noun is hardly necessary (if context isn’t enough, you just aren’t expressing yourself clearly) and I can think of no precedent in similar cases in the English language. (John likes Joan. I’m finished with the lykes of you?) Two thumbs down on this.

50. dazpoc - April 19, 2012

yeah well – I think “indicies” is a revolting word and for that reason alone I shan’t be using it, and I hope it dies a lonely miserable death alone somewhere – while the rest of the ‘popular vernicular’ english language carries on evolving merrily.

also – considering the pedanticness (IDC if that’s bad spelling) with grammar and spelling at least in this thread – you would think these comment boxes would have at least spell check enabled wouldn’t you?

darr247 - April 19, 2012

Pedantry over grammar in a blog post with “grammar” in the title? Shocking.

And “popular vernicular” (SIC) is redundant, methinks; merrily could *use* some evolving, though.

51. Bill Andersoot - August 14, 2012

And the plural of appendix is ALWAYS appendices. Even if you’re a doctor.

52. See I told ya so - December 7, 2012

Even Paul Krugman and the New York Times use indexes as the plural form of index, and not indices. That proves that indexes is correct because Paul Krugman won a Nobel Prize and the New York Times are never wrong.

Darr247 - December 8, 2012

Wow… he won a Nobel Prize and the New York Times, huh?

Those sure seem wrong to *me*.

53. Roberto - December 12, 2013

I belong to the Society of People For The Protection of Bobs and I find this thread quite distasteful. For shame! Imagine, picking on a poor helpless Bob. And the correct plural form of the noun index is indices.

54. Bill - January 4, 2017

If only Hillary would have used indices instead of indexes, she would have won. I always told her grammar does make a difference.


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