criteria vs. criterion

Are you struggling to figure out what the issue in the sentence above is? You know that there isn’t a typo, a spelling mistake, or a punctuation error. So what’s the problem? It lies in the sixth word in the sentence – criteria. In today’s post, we’re going to talk about criteria’s forgotten twin – its singular equivalent criterion. We’ll also break down the difference between criteria vs. criterion and other words that create the same type of confusion.

When to use criteria vs. criterion

Let’s start by talking about when to use criteria vs. criterion. We use criteria when we’re referring to multiple requirements or standards for evaluating something or making a decision about it. For example, you would use criteria in sentences like these:

  • “If you want to be eligible for the grant, you must meet the following five criteria.”
  • “He failed to meet the criteria for the program.”
  • “Tomas and Becca were denied visas because they didn’t meet all of the criteria.”

The key thing to remember is that you need to be referring to multiple requirements or standards to use criteria.

In comparison, you use criterion when you’re referring to a single requirement or standard. For example, you would use criterion in sentences like these:

  • “If you want to be eligible for the grant, you must meet every criterion stated in the instructions.”
  • “He failed to meet a criterion for the program.”
  • “Tomas and Becca were denied visas because they didn’t meet one criterion.”

Remember that you need to use criterion instead of criteria when you have just one requirement or standard to talk about.

Why do people mix up criteria vs. criterion?

Understanding the difference between criteria vs. criterion is pretty simple. So why do so many people use criteria when they should really use criterion? We read and write the word criteria much more than we read and write the word criterion, so we sometimes forget that criteria isn’t the singular form of the word. Just think about the last time you used the word criteria and the last time you used the word criterion. Are you having trouble remembering the last time you used criterion? You’re probably not alone.

Need a trick for remembering which word is singular and which one’s plural? Note that criterion refers to one requirement or standard and ends in –on, which almost looks like the word one.

Other examples

Criteria vs. criterion aren’t the only pair of words that people tend to confuse in this way. Here are other examples:

  • Phenomenon vs. phenomena
  • Medium vs. media
  • Stratum vs. strata

In all of these cases, you’re probably more familiar with the plural form of the word than the singular form.

Summary

We often use the word criteria, but we tend to forget about its other half. Remember that criteria works when you need to use the plural form of the word. But if you’re talking about just one requirement or standard, you need to use the word criterion. And if you need to remember the difference between criteria vs. criterion, just look at the ends of the words.

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Want to check out other words that you may be misusing? Read our post on the difference between compose and comprise.

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Criteria vs. criterion: What’s the difference?
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