Usage and Grammar

Q. Help us out if you please. We are debating whether the following incomplete sentence (it’s used in a table) takes singular or plural verbs. “A tool applied to data that identifies consumer goods, defines their characteristics, and describes their method choice behaviors.”

A. The problem here is compounded because the noun “data” can be either singular or plural. If you use singular verbs, the verbs can refer to either “tool” or “data” (resulting in some ambiguity); if you use the plural, they must go with “data.” I’m not sure which of the two meanings you intend. If you want to modify “tool,” you might reword slightly: “A tool that, when applied to data, identifies consumer goods, . . .” If you want to modify “data,” use the plural to avoid the ambiguity.