Writing a paper, the conclusion – day 3: irregular singulars and plurals and a conclusion

Writing a paper, the conclusion – day 3: irregular singulars and plurals and a conclusion

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There are several words that you are likely to use in scientific English where the use of the singular and plural form can be confusing. The most common of these is ‘data’ as the Journal will explain below. Normally to make a singular word plural the author should add an ‘s’. But with all of the examples below it is more complicated than that.


Data is plural of the Latin word datum. It is commonly used in the plural form as in the examples below, however, it can also be used for the singular form.

Pural: The data from the samples are shown in Table 2…; or These data illustrate why…

However, data is also used by some authors in the single form as an uncountable noun:

Singular: Our data is represented by….; or The data can be accessed through…


Bacteria is an irregular plural noun with a different ending to that of the singular, bacterium.

Singular: A single bacterium could be identified…

Plural: The bacteria were found to be…

Other similar examples of irregular plurals with a different ending

aquarium > acquaria

child > children


Series is a noun where the singular and plural are the same.

Singular: The objects were lined up in a series…

Plural: There are two series of lectures planned…

Other examples are:

Species > species


Vertices is an irregular noun that replaces ‘ex’ with ‘ices’, some other words replace ‘ix’ with ‘ices’.

Singular: each vertex represents 108 degrees in the…

Plural: The polygon had 5 vertices…

Other examples are:

index > indices (or indexes)

matrix > matrices


Some irregular nouns replace ‘is’ in the singular form with ‘es’ in the plural.

Singular: time is represented by the X axis…

Plural: the point where the two axes meet is….

analysis > analyses

neurosis > neuroses

thesis > theses


Some irregular plural nouns replace ‘us’with ‘i’

Singular: the radius was measures as….

Plural: the effect of the radii of the circular arc…

Other examples are below and some simply add ‘es’:

fungus > fungi

Nucleus > nuclei

Octopus> octopi

virus > viruses


Some plural nouns replace ‘um’ with ‘a’ such as medium.

Singular: Twitter has proven to be a good medium for promoting journal articles…

Plural: there are several media that authors might want to consider…

Other examples include the words below, some of which you might need if errors creep into your written research.

Stratum > strata

Addendum > addenda

Corrigendum > corrigenda

Erratum > errata

Conclusion extract

Now let’s look at a conclusion extract.

The deep sea is a major sink for microplastic debris


Our results show for the first time, to the best of our knowledge, that substantial quantities of microplastic debris have accumulated in the deep sea. Given the extent of this habitat (more than 300 million km2), it therefore seems likely that the deep sea is a sink for this debris. Thus, we have started to elucidate the location of the missing ocean plastic. Plastic accumulation is a global concern because of its effects on marine organisms. The discovery of previously under-reported microplastics suggests that there may be even greater plastic accumulation than was previously suspected. In contrast with studies on the effects of large plastic debris, which mostly document entanglement and ingestion, there are few studies examining the biological effects of microplastics. A range of organisms are known to ingest microplastics, and there is concern this could result in physical and/or toxicological harm. The extent to which microplastics could have harmful effects will most likely be influenced by their relative abundance. The discovery of substantial quantities in deep-sea sediments is of considerable relevance to our understanding of the potential of these particles to cause harm in the marine environment.

To date, our understanding regarding the dynamics of transport, accumulation and associated spatial distribution has been extremely limited, and the data presented here, together with that of Van Cauwenberghe et al., provide the first evidence of global sinks for microplastic debris, a theory previously suggested for larger plastic debris items. It is now crucial to establish consistent methodologies to allow robust temporal and spatial comparisons, to address how abundance and composition vary with depth, location, topography and habitat, and apply these data to the already complex oceanographic transport models available for some oceans, which have successfully been used to predict surface plastic accumulation. In addition, the elucidation of the physical and toxicological effects of microplastics is also required. In summary, further data collection is required to properly establish the impact of microplastic particles on deep-sea communities and related ecosystem services.

This extract is taken from: Woodall LC et al. 2014 The deep sea is a major sink for microplastic debris. R. Soc. Open sci. 1: 140317. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.140317

Useful phrases from the extract

Our results show for the first time, to the best of our knowledge: Introduces the key finding and also hedges the claim with the phrase ‘to the best of our knowledge’

seems likely: this is used to limit the certainty of the claim as it is an evaluation or interpretation and not a proven fact

suggests that there may be: this phrase is also used to limit certainty

In contrast with studies… there are few studies: this describes why this research finding is new

The discovery of substantial quantities … relevance to our understanding: highlights why this is significant

our understanding regarding… has been extremely limited: these phrases again highlight the novelty of the findings

provide the first evidence: again shows novelty in the research finding

It is now crucial: recommendation for the future

In addition, the elucidation: recommends that further investigation is needed. ‘Elucidation’ means clarity

In summary, further data collection: a conclusive sentence on further research

Further study for this week

This week try to write a conclusion section covering the key items and from reading the extracts. Try the short quiz below to test your understanding.

Lesson tags: English for scientists, singular and plurals, the conclusion, writing a paper
Back to: English for Scientists