View Full Version : Which is proper?

05-20-2012, 02:06 AM
Is it 'pair' or 'pairs' in plural? Or would either be correct to use?

Such as, 'I donated four pair of shoes' or 'I donated four pairs of shoes'?

Very curious. I grew up hearing people say 'pairs' and that's the term I use as well, but now I'm wondering if that was a regional thing confined to NYC.

Answers appreciated.

05-20-2012, 03:09 AM
A pair of shoes = two shoes that match each other, one left, one right.

Two pairs of shoes = four shoes, with two sets of matching shoes (see above)

Three pairs of shoes = six shoes, with three sets of matching shoes.


05-20-2012, 03:34 AM
Pair = Singular
Pairs = Plural

What else is there to see?

I have three pairs of shoes.
I have a pair of shoes.

05-20-2012, 04:30 AM
Thanks - a friend lent me a Nora Roberts book and in reading it, I discovered the "numerous pair of shoes" bit.

As I wrote, it didn't sound right to me, but I wanted to check with others who might know better.

05-20-2012, 05:01 AM
I have heard people say "two pair" of something, and I think I've seen this in advertisements sometimes as well. It exists, but I think that's just one of those technically incorrect things people say sometimes. :P "Pairs" is correct, I believe. And, I think, more common.

05-20-2012, 05:17 AM
That's a dialect issue; pair as a plural is very common in a retail context:

"I sold four pair shoes, six dozen towels, and a scissors."

It may be related, derivationally, to another language influencing English, since it does seem to be post 18th century, and I can't find it in British English, but I've only made a very cursory search.

If you're using pair in dialog, try to hear how your character sounds in your own head; if you're writing something more formal, I'd use pairs for more than one pair of something.

05-20-2012, 05:17 AM
According to Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition (1988), either plural is correct, pair or pairs. FWIW, my father was the etymological editor of that dictionary for about 40 years, until his death in 1991.

That is the dictionary I have at hand, but I suspect that comparable dictionaries will tell you the same.


P.S. I ran upstairs and retrieved my copy of Random House Webster's College Dictionary. Likewise: pair or pairs = plural of pair.

05-20-2012, 05:21 AM
I've done some dictionary surfing, and the plural of "pair" can be either "pair" or "pairs," even in those usages that may strike us as odd.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "She had six pair of shoes" is not incorrect. It just sounds strange to many of us. These usages may vary from place to place and/or be in transition.

Two pair (pairs) of pears:

http://i1213.photobucket.com/albums/cc465/muggo5/PEARS.jpg http://i1213.photobucket.com/albums/cc465/muggo5/PEARS.jpg

05-20-2012, 05:37 AM
P.S. I ran upstairs and retrieved my copy of Random House Webster's College Dictionary. Likewise: pair or pairs = plural of pair.

Every American dictionary I have finds both acceptable; some mark pair as a plural for multiple sets of shoes, for instance, as colloquial or dialect, but not "wrong."

The British dictionaries are a mix, oddly.

05-20-2012, 05:45 AM
All of you are fantastic; thank you so much for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity and educate me in the process!

05-20-2012, 05:30 PM
I found this:

Usage Note: The noun pair can be followed by a singular or plural verb. The singular is always used when pair denotes the set taken as a single entity: This pair of shoes is on sale. A plural verb is used when the members are considered as individuals: The pair are working more harmoniously now. After a number other than one, pair itself can be either singular or plural, but the plural is now more common: She bought six pairs (or pair) of stockings.

05-20-2012, 07:08 PM
I found this:

Usage Note: . . . .
From the American Heritage Dictionary?


05-21-2012, 08:38 PM
For an explanation of pair/pairs, see the note in the Oxford English Dictionary. (I am looking at the photoreduced 1971 edition.)

The form used to be "four pair shoes," for example (no "of"). Later, "of" was inserted (four pair of shoes), and usage shifted toward the more natural sounding "four pairs of shoes." That is my summary and rewording. I'll not retype the original, but if you have access to the OED, it is worth a look.