English nouns that are only used in the plural

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.

There are a few nouns in English that are only used in the plural. They may be confusing for English learners if the equivalent expression in their mother tongue is in the singular, which is the case especially for many of the following items of clothing:

jeans, tights, trousers, pants, panties

All this hosiery is used only in the plural, usually because the items come in pairs (for both legs) and the singular form has died out. For example:

Her new jeans/tights/trousers/pants/panties are black. (correct)
Her new jeans/tights/trousers/pants/panties is black. (wrong)

It is common to refer to a single item as a “pair” because it is not possible to use the indefinite article “a” with a plural noun:

I bought a new pair of jeans. (correct)
I bought a new jeans. (wrong)
I bought a new jean. (wrong, “jean” does not exist)

Note that the word “trousers” in British English refers to any kind of clothes worn from the waist down covering both legs separately, whereas the general term in the US is “pants” (and “trousers” is used less commonly). In British English “pants” means the same as “underpants” or “knickers”, i.e. a kind of underwear, which is referred to as “panties” in American English.

Other common examples of things that come in inseparable pairs are:

tongs, scissors, pliers, glasses, binoculars

(Do not confuse “tongs”, a tool, with “thongs”, the plural of “thong”, which is a type of underwear.) All the nouns above require a plural verb:

The tongs/scissors/pliers/glasses/binoculars are not big enough. (correct)
The tongs/scissors/pliers/glasses/binoculars is not big enough. (wrong)

Again, it is common to refer separate items as “pairs”:

Peter has just got two new pairs of glasses.

Other examples

There are many other examples of nouns that exist only in the plural. Some of the most common are:

  • clothes (not to be confused with cloths)
  • remains (the remaining parts of something)
  • arms (in the sense of “weapons”)
  • outskirts (of a city)
  • shenanigans (mischief, craziness, trickery)

This article was based on my guide to the most common mistakes in English, which explains many similar topics. Why don’t you check it out?