Is a "pair" of something a singular (collective) noun or plural

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When referring to a "pair" of something, do you treat it as a single collective noun with verb to match, or treat it as a plural.  E.g. "We won't be buying this pair of shoes as they are too tight" or "We won't be buying this pair of shoes as it is too tight".  "This pair is just right" or "This pair are just right".  Plural sounds better in the first example but single sounds better in the second. 

asked Jul 31 '11 at 14:50 Christine King New member

2 answers


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Christine, 

 

Your interpretation of both the examples is correct.  The first is clearly plural and the second is singular. It can be both, and my understanding is that it has to do with what you are emphasising.

 

It is important to note that grammatically, 'a pair' is singular.  In situations when 'a pair' sounds like it should take a plural verb, it's unlikely that you need the word 'pair' at all.  I think inserting pair in a sentence where a plural verb is necessary is a colloquial development that functions well in speaking, but lacks the clarity necessary to make it good for writing.

 

See your example below:

 

We won't be buying these shoes as they are too tight. 

link comment answered Aug 01 '11 at 18:23 Kimberly Expert
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I have my own hypothesis. We can make three sentences like, first, "We won't be buying this pair of shoes as it is too tight." Here the two shoes, as a pair, have the problem of being too tight for you. So you won't buy them as a pair, that is, as one product. Second, "We won't be buying this pair of shoes as one of the pair is too tight." Here, you have a pair of shoes, one of which has the problem of being too tight. And that would be a rare case because a pair of shoes is supposed to have two shoes of the same size in it. Anyway, you would not buy not only the tight shoe but also the other shoe that fits your left or right foot very well, because the shoe with no problem, separately, would be of no use to you. And lastly, "We won't be buying this pair of shoes as both of the pair (= they) are too tight." Here, we are saying that not only one shoe but also the other shoe of the pair has the problem of being too tight, which is very unsatisfactory. It is as if you would consider buying the pair of shoes if there were the problem of being too tight only in one shoe of the pair. Therefore, I would say "We won't be buying this pair of shoes as it is too tight" instead of "We won't be buying this pair of shoes as they are too tight".  

link comment edited Jul 04 '13 at 03:45 Lee Minhyung New member

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