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Is 'Pair' Singular or Plural?

A reader named Maggie asked whether one pair of jeans is singular or plural. In other words, should she say that one pair of jeans IS on the chair or one pair of jeans ARE on the chair?

By
Mignon Fogarty,

What’s the Trouble? People find "pair" confusing. Is it singular or plural?  

A pair is two of something, but a pair can be singular or plural—it’s one of those odd English nouns (like "couple") that can be singular or plural depending on how you’re thinking of the people or items in question. 

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For example, if you have two similar dogs entered in a dog show by the same owner, you might say something like “The pair of schnauzers were entered by Hanz Finkelstein,” treating "pair" as plural (the pair were entered) because they are two distinct dogs.

On the other hand, Maggie’s pair of jeans seems more like one thing, so you would be more likely to say her pair of jeans is on the chair.

Here are more examples:

A pair of papers ... have been submitted to Astronomy and Astrophysics, describing the planets.

―Dennis Overbye writing for the New York Times

In the crowd, furious but friendly arguments were taking place as surrounding groups watched, much the way one-on-one basketball games are enjoyed in urban America. One pair was arguing the merits of salvaging at least a bit of the Russian language as Ukrainians try to move forward into independence.

― Francis Clines writing for the New York Times

There’s no definitive right or wrong choice. You simple choose the verb that best reflects the singleness or plurality of your subject—does the pair seem more like one thing (a unit) or two separate things? 

What Should You Do? If a pair seems like one thing, it’s singular. If a pair seems like two separate things, it’s plural. 

Images courtesy of Shutterstock (schnauzers and jeans).

If a pair seems like one thing, it’s singular. If a pair seems like two separate things, it’s plural.

 

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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