‘Clothes is’ vs. ‘clothes are’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

The word for “clothes” is singular in many languages, e.g. la ropa in Spanish or die Kleidung in German, and its plural in most contexts does not even make sense (you would virtually never hear someone say las ropas or die Kleidungen). In English, however, the situation is completely reversed.

The word “clothes”, pronounced /kləʊðz/ or /kləʊz/ in the UK and /kloʊðz/ or /kloʊz/ in the US, is only used in the plural:

His new clothes look good. (correct)
His new clothes looks good. (wrong)

The word “clothe” is not the singular of “clothes”, as one might think. It is a verb meaning “to dress” or “provide clothing” and sounds quite formal and is not very common. For example, a newspaper headline could read “Third-World parents are desperate to feed and clothe their children”.

Also, don’t confuse “clothes” and “cloths”. A cloth (pronounced /klɒθ/ (UK), /klɔːθ/ (US)) is a piece of fabric. For example, you can wipe a table with a damp cloth.

Finally, there is “clothing”, a singular noun similar in meaning to “clothes”, but it is typically used to refer to a certain type of clothes, e.g. “protective clothing”, rather than a particular piece of clothing:

I wear these clothes every day. (correct)
I wear this clothing every day. (unnatural; overly formal)

When referring to a specific “number of clothes”, we would say “piece of clothing”, “article of clothing”, or “item of clothing”, for example:

I bought a new piece of clothing. (correct)
I bought a new clothes. (wrong)
You will get a discount if you buy five or more items of clothing. (correct)
You will get a discount if you buy five or more clothes. (unnatural)

There is also a more traditional and formal word for a piece of clothing: a garment. It is not so common in spoken language, but it still popular in print publications.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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