Criteria vs. Criterion: What’s the Difference?

There is a bit of confusion that surrounds the use of criteria vs. criterion. What is the difference between them? Is there one? Is one singular and one plural?

What is the Difference Between Criteria and Criterion?

In this post, I want to answer these questions and compare both words: criteria vs. criterion. I will outline how each word is used in a sentence and give you a trick to remember the difference.

After reading this post, you won’t ever again wonder, “Should I use criteria or criterion?”

When to Use Criteria

definition of criterion and definition of criteriaWhat does criteria mean? Criteria is the plural form of the word criterion, which means a standard, rule, or test on which a judgment can be based.

  • In order to apply for a membership, you must meet the following criteria.
  • Our kitchen follows all governmental safety criteria for food preparation.
  • A top federal health official said Monday that the administration will eliminate some criteria for late sign-ups and make other criteria language clearer. –The Wall Street Journal

It is common to see criteria written as if it were singular, but this is incorrect.

  • The new criteria was rolled out and implemented company wide. (Incorrect)
  • The new criteria were rolled out and implemented company wide. (Correct)

Another common mistake is to write criterias as the plural of criterion. This is incorrect, as criteria is already plural.

And given that criteria is plural, you should never see it in any of the following constructions,

  • A criteria.
  • Each criteria.
  • Every criteria.
  • The sole criteria.
  • The criteria is.
  • The criteria was.
  • This criteria.
  • That criteria.

Instead, understanding that criteria is in fact a plural, you could rewrite the above constructions as follows,

  • All criteria.
  • The criteria are.
  • The criteria were.
  • Those criteria.
  • These criteria.

When to Use Criterion

what is the definition of criterionWhat does criterion mean? Criterion comes directly from Greek and is a singular noun. As mentioned above, it is defined as a principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided.

  • We have met each and every criterion you put before us.
  • I think that we need a further criterion to make the requirements clearer.
  • It seems unlikely that the Legislature will recklessly amend the 1971 law mandating the SHSAT as the sole criterion for admission into the specialized high schools. –New York Post

And given that criterion is singular, you should never see it in the following constructions,

  • All criterion.
  • The criterion are.
  • The criterion were.
  • These criterion.
  • Those criterion.

Instead, they should be written in the following constructions,

  • A criterion.
  • Each criterion.
  • Every criterion.
  • The sole criterion.
  • The criterion is.
  • The criterion was.
  • This criterion.
  • That criterion.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Here is a helpful trick to remember criterion vs. criteria. If you are ever unsure of which word you should use, just employ these mental checks.

Check one: Criterion is singular, which means that it is only referring to one thing. Think of the “o” in criterion as standing for one.

Check two: Criteria is plural, which mean it refers to many things, or sometimes all things. Think of the “a” in criteria as standing for all.

Summary

Is it criterion or criteria? Each of these words refer to different quantities of something, and the misuse of them is widely considered an error. If you want your writing to look professional, it is best to keep track of the plural criteria and the singular criterion.

Criteria is the plural form of criterion. It is used when referring to more than one criterion.

Criterion is singular and is used to refer to a single thing.