I’ve run across this often, and, particularly, a few times recently: someone talked about singling out four talks at a conference; someone else spoke of a teacher’s singling out three students for criticism, though others had also done poorly on the assignment. Another wrote about the singling out of Muslim travellers, on suspicion that they might be terrorists.
The clue, here, should be the word
single: you can’t
single out multiple things. You just can’t. Please don’t try.
Four talks may be given as examples, three students may be selected, Muslim travellers may be picked on or set apart or characterized, whether or not they should be. But in none of these cases may they be singled out.
Using it incorrectly dilutes the term and devalues it, as is too often done with terms such as unique (
the most unique) and literally (
I literally died). We may have lost all of these, but I hope not.