The Grammarphobia Blog

Is “media” singular or plural?

Q: I was listening to you on the radio and tried to call but couldn’t get through. I wanted to hear your view on the word “media.” I think that radio is a medium, TV is a medium, and together they are media. In other words, “medium” is singular and “media” is plural. I just heard on the TV news a few minutes ago that “the media was all over this story” and I cringed. Is “media” now accepted as singular as well as plural or am I right in my feelings about the word?

A: You’re right, at least for now. The word “media” is still considered a plural noun and should take a plural verb (as in “the media were all over this story”). Use of “media” in the singular is widely considered a misuse.

But stay tuned. Many usage experts have predicted that in a generation or two “media” will be considered acceptable as a singular noun. Why? Because plurals with Latinate endings take a beating in English, and tend to become Anglicized over time. They either become singular (like the formerly plural “agenda,” “opera,” and “insignia”) or adopt different plural endings (like “syllabuses,” “curriculums,” “gymnasiums”).

For example, “data” is now considered singular by a great many usage experts. “Media” will undoubtedly get there someday. The fact that journalists are already using “mediums” as the plural seems to point the way to the eventual acceptance of “media” as a singular noun. And to be honest the fight about “media” is easier for me to concede than some others (for example, losing the meanings of words like “comprised” and “bemused” and “nonplussed”).

(An updated posting about “media” appeared on the blog on Sept. 25, 2010.)