Our goal today is to look into an interesting part of the English language. The question that some students ask is:
Why do Americas use Plural with only one piece?
pants, pajamas, glasses, trousers, shorts, jeans, panties, underpants, etc.
For non-native speakers and learners of English, this is a little strange. First, because they can see that the object is in fact only one piece, not two. Second, English speakers say “pants” but they also say “a shirt.” This difference is confusing.
Last, perhaps in the native language of some students, the item is considered as only one thing.
If this is your first time to hear this rule, then you’d better start practicing. This is one of the first and basic topics in English, next to Countable and Uncountable Nouns.
Take a look:
I’m wearing a pant. = X
She will buy a short. = X
Hey, that’s a nice jean. = X
All the sentences above are wrong. Why? Because they’re trying to use the Vocabulary “pants,” “shorts,” and “jeans” as Singular Nouns.
As a matter of fact, words like these are always Plural.
You can correct the sentences this way:
I’m wearing pants. = Ok
She will buy shorts. = Ok
Hey, (those are) nice jeans. = Ok
Or you can use the handy expression “a pair of” :
I’m wearing a pair of pants. = Ok
She will buy a pair of shorts. = Ok
Hey, that’s a nice pair of jeans. = Ok
As you can see, you should always think of these words as Plural Nouns. And you should practice using them as such.
These are all correct:
I want jeans. = Ok
I want some jeans. = Ok
I want a pair of jeans. = Ok
If you want to talk about more than one, you should say:
I need two pairs of pants. = Ok
She packed three pairs of shorts. = Ok
He will buy four pairs of jeans. = Ok
I need two pants. = X
She packed three shorts. = X
He will buy four jeans. = X
The word “underwear” is similar but a little different from our list of words today. Because “underwear” is in fact an Uncountable Noun.
This means that:
You should bring underwear. = Ok
You should bring some underwear. = Ok
You should bring underwears. = X
There is one exception to this rule. It’s when you use the word “undies.”
You should bring undies. = Ok
You should bring some undies. = Ok
You should bring an undies. = X
I have to tell you though that this word is informal and it is often used for the garment used by women and girls.
Similarly, the word “panties” is only for the clothing of women and girls.
You can say:
He is wearing underwear. = Ok
He is wearing an underwear. = X
He is wearing a pair of underwear. = Ok
She is wearing undies. = Ok
She is wearing an undies. = X
She is wearing a pair of undies. = Ok
She is wearing panties. = Ok
She is wearing a panty. = X
She is wearing a pair of panties. = Ok
“Pajamas” is another word that is always used in Plural form. Why? Because the meaning of “pajamas” is:
a top + loose, soft trousers
So just like the other words above, you should say:
I was wearing pajamas. = Ok
I was in pajamas. = Ok
I was in my pajamas. = Ok
I was in a pajama. = X
* The British version of this word is “pyjamas”
** “Pj’s” is an informal American expression.
Glasses vs. Glass
Aside from items of clothing, other things that have names always in Plural forms are “scissors,” “glasses,” “tweezers,” “pliers,” etc.
|These are tweezers.|
Be extra careful with the word “glasses.” If you don’t use it as a Plural Noun, your sentence will have a different meaning:
I want glasses. = Ok
I want some glasses. = Ok
I want a pair of glasses. = Ok
I want a glass. = Ok (but different meaning)
“A glass” is different from “glasses.” A glass is a container where you put water, wine, etc.
for the eyes
a pair of glasses
two pairs of glasses
How to Use
If you’re having a hard time with this rule, just think of the words (pants, jeans, shorts, etc.) as Vocabulary and remember them only as Vocabulary. Don’t try to imagine the actual items or how they look. If you do this, you might get confused.
Do you remember our lesson on Countable and Uncountable Nouns?
In the same way, Countable and Uncountable Nouns will be difficult for you if you don’t memorize them only as Vocabulary.
If you’d like a quick review of Countable and Uncountable Nouns, just click:
A Pair Of
If you check the dictionary, you will see that there are at least 2 definitions for the word “pair” :
1. Pair = A single unit that is made from 2 similar parts joined together
2. Pair = Two things of the same type that are used together
What’s the difference between them?
Well, we have already discussed No.1.
No.2 is more simple. Because if you look at the actual items, you can see that there are really 2 separate objects.
a pair of boots, a pair of earrings, a pair of shoes, a pair of socks, a pair of gloves, a pair of sandals, a pair of skis, etc.
As you know, these 2 things always go together in pairs. You can’t use one without the other. So, using the expression “a pair of…” with them is easy.
Or if you want to use just one, it’s fine too.
A sandal = Ok
A sock = Ok
A shoe = Ok
Why do English Speakers Use Plural
with One Piece?
with One Piece?
The reason why English speakers talk about some items of clothing in Plural form is because, right from the beginning, these words have always been Plural.
A long, long time ago, before modern fashion and tailors, some items of clothing were actually made in 2 parts. For example, a cowboy would wear first one piece on his left leg, and then another piece on his right leg. And then he would wrap or tie them around his waist with a belt.
|Look at what the cowboy on the left is wearing.|
Even after tailors started making the items in one piece only, the Plural expression remained.
This is the reason we always use these words (pants, jeans, shorts etc.) in Plural form and not Singular. Except for the word “shirt” because a shirt has always been made in only one piece in history.
So, always use Plural form when you use these words, and if you want to be clear or if you want more than one, you should use the expression “pair of.”
Hope You Learned Something!