By: Rita Ray | January 29, 2018

My friend posted a selfie on Facebook exemplifying the difficulties of short people shopping for pants. We’re both short—like “have to jump to see what’s on the top shelf at the grocery store” short. I started to comment on her post about my favorite pair of ankle-length jeans (which was definitely floor-length on me) when I paused midsentence with a brain cramp: should I use “were” or “was” with “pair” when talking about my go-to jeans from high school?

I won’t leave you in suspense: the answer was to treat “pair” as a singular noun. But why?

A quick lookup in a dictionary clarifies that the word “pair” is both singular and plural.

So how did I decide whether to make “pair” singular or plural? I looked at the meaning I was trying to convey. I was referring to one item of clothing, not two, so I treated “pair” as a singular noun. Had I been referring to two pairs (or pair!), “were” would have been the appropriate choice. However, I would have had to rewrite my sentence to eliminate ambiguity and awkwardness. Plus, I would have had to decide between saying “two pair” or “two pairs.” (Both are correct, but “pairs” is generally more accepted.)

So, did my friend finally find pants? She didn't say, but at least now you know for your next shopping trip when to use “pair” as a singular or plural noun.

Happy writing!

Rita Ray

Category: Clarification 

Tags: Word Wise 


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