Commonly Confused Words: Media, Medium, and Mediums

How to properly use each

media, medium, mediums
"Common usage," says Bill Schmalz, "has made 'the broadcast media are blowing the story out of proportion' and 'the broadcast media is blowing the story out of proportion' both acceptable. Just be consistent with media is or media are. Mediums is plural for spiritualists and T-shirt sizes" (The Architects Guide to Writing, 2014). (Ian McKinnell/Getty Images)

Strictly speaking, media is the plural of medium and should generally be used with a plural verb — as in, "The media are important institutions in our society." (When referring to fortune tellers, mediums is the correct plural.)

But in recent years, as demonstrated by the examples and usage notes below, the word media (like data and agenda) has come to be treated as singular in certain contexts (especially in American English).

"This usage is becoming well established," say the editors of Canadian A-Z of Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation (2006), "but because there are still many people who object to it, sticking with the plural might be the safest policy."

Examples

  • “All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”
    (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964)
     
  • "In every country, the media are under three kinds of ownership: public, private, and a third type that might be called community or not-for-profit."
    (Paul Nesbitt-Larking, Politics, Society, and the Media, 2nd ed. Broadview, 2007)
     
  • "Today, social media are used by individuals, by corporate firms and by the public sector."
    (Kirsten Drotner and Kim Christian Schrøder, Museum Communication and Social Media. Routledge, 2013)
     
  • "Social media is now a key source for news and information. Social media has greatly impacted politics and the political process."
    (Alan B. Albarran, The Social Media Industries. Routledge, 2013) 
     
  • "The media is ubiquitous; it plays a significantly heightened role in both daily private and public life."
    (Katie Ellis and Gerard Goggin, Disability and the Media. Palgrave, 2015)
     
  • “Television is called a medium because nothing on it is ever well done."
    (Comedian Fred Allen)
     
  • "Artists have reached within themselves to express their joys and fears, often choosing elements, mediums, and styles in ways that complement their emotions."
    (Lois Fichner-Rathus, Foundations of Art and Design, 2012)
     

    Usage Notes

    • "It is apparent that media is on its way to becoming a collective noun which can take singular or plural as the writer wishes, particularly when the media is/are seen as a single homogeneous group."
      (Philip Gooden, Who's Whose: A No-Nonsense Guide to Easily Confused Words, Walker & Company, 2004)
       
    • Style Guides on Media
      - "Media. In the sense of mass communication, such as magazines, newspapers, the news services, radio, television and online, the word is plural: The news media are resisting attempts to limit their freedom."
      (The Associated Press Stylebook 2015, ed. by David Minthorn et al. BasicBooks, 2015)

      - "Media: Prefer press and television or, if the context allows it, just press. If you have to use the media, remember they are plural."
      (The Economist Style Guide, 10th ed. [UK] Profile Books, 2010)

      - "Media. Plural of medium: the media are sex-obsessed, etc., but a convention of spiritualists would be attended by mediums."
      (David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon, Guardian Style [UK]. Guardian Books, 2010)

      - "Media. In collective references to communication outlets and platforms, generally treat it as singular: The news media is a favorite target of politicians; Social media is playing a crucial role in the uprising. Avoid referring to news outlets simply as the media; that broad term could include movies, television, entertainment, etc. In referring to artistic techniques or materials, treat media as plural (in this sense the singular is medium): Many different media were on display in the student exhibition."
      (Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, 5th ed. Three Rivers Press, 2015)

      - "Media. The etymologically plural form media is often used as a singular to refer to a particular means of communication, as in The Internet is the most exciting new media since television. Many people regard this usage as incorrect, preferring medium in such contexts. People also use media with the definite article as a collective term to refer not to the forms of communication themselves so much as the communities and institutions behind them. In this sense, the media means something like “the press.” Like other collective nouns, it may take a singular or plural verb depending on the intended meaning. If the point is to emphasize the multifaceted nature of the press, a plural verb may be more appropriate: The media have covered the trial in a variety of formats. Frequently, however, media stands as a singular noun for the aggregate of journalists and broadcasters: The media has not shown much interest in covering the trial. This development of a singular media parallels that of more established words such as data and agenda, which are also Latin plurals that have acquired a singular meaning."
      (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, 2000)
       
    • Mediums
      - "Some academics now use the coinage 'mediums' as a sort of super-intensive plural. That word seems useful when one wants to draw attention to the multiplicity of channels of communication. For example: 'There are numerous print mediums,' but 'The media are angry at the president.'"
      (James Monaco, The Dictionary of New Media: The New Digital World of Video, Audio, and Print. Harbor Electronic Publishing, 1999)

      - "In art materials' terminology, the word 'medium' can sometimes be confusing. The type of paint you choose--for example, oil, acrylic or watercolor--is known as a medium (plural 'media'). If you use two or more materials in a painting, it is termed a 'mixed-media painting.' However, the term 'medium' (plural 'mediums') is also used to refer to the various liquids, gels, and pastes that may be added to paint when you use it. These mediums can be added to color to alter paint's handling properties or surface appearance."
      (Simon Jennings, Artist's Color Manual: The Complete Guide to Working With Color. HarperCollins, 2003)
       

      Practice

      (a) "I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a _____ of information."
      (David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising. Crown, 1983)

      (b) "Our _____ make crisis chatter out of news and fill our minds with anxious phantoms of the real thing."
      (Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back. Viking, 1976)

       

      Scroll down for answers.

       

       

       

       

       

      Answers to Practice Exercises

      (a) "I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information."
      (David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising. Crown, 1983)

      (b) "Our media make crisis chatter out of news and fill our minds with anxious phantoms of the real thing."
      (Saul Bellow, To Jerusalem and Back. Viking, 1976)

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      Your Citation
      Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words: Media, Medium, and Mediums." ThoughtCo, Jun. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/media-medium-and-mediums-1689581. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, June 5). Commonly Confused Words: Media, Medium, and Mediums. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/media-medium-and-mediums-1689581 Nordquist, Richard. "Commonly Confused Words: Media, Medium, and Mediums." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/media-medium-and-mediums-1689581 (accessed May 22, 2018).