A Chinese colleague has just emailed me this question and asked me whether I think the answer is c) or d).
This pair of shorts ______ too expensive. I can't afford _____.
I know, without any hesitation, that I would SAY "This pair of shorts is too expensive. I can't afford them."
But that gives me a mismatch. I am treating it as singular (pair) in the first sentence and using a plural pronoun in the second. As soon as I start to think about it, it looks wrong but that is definitely what I would say if I were looking at them in a shop.
Actually, I don't know anyone who would start a sentence with, "This pair of shorts...." They would say, "These pair of shorts" or more often, "These shorts (leaving out the 'pair of' altogether)...." Using the plural form pronoun, they would then use "are" and "them" later on in the sentence. If I did use the word pair, I would still say, "These pair of shorts are too expensive. I can't afford them." I can imagine a customer being right there looking at the price of the shorts. If I walked away and was still thinking of them, I might say something like, "Those shorts were too expensive!"
For more on these pronouns, click here!
It's not the same as singular "they", but it is another example of how the semantics and syntax do not have to line up.
Also I wouldn't be surprised to hear
This pair of shorts are too expensive. I can't afford them.
According to MWDEU "pair" can take a singular or plural verb according to notional agreement.
According to this, a pair of shorts can only be used as plural. I only know what "sounds" right to me. I don't claim to be an expert. Just because I wouldn't say it or don't hear it, doesn't mean others don't say it differently. A great deal depends on where one lives and I know that can vary, even in less than 50 miles. However, the above link is what one expert source says.
I don't think that page says "a pair of shorts" can only be plural. In fact the examples they give show it being used as a singular noun, with "a" and "that".
I bought a new pair of binoculars last week.
That old pair of trousers will be useful for doing jobs in the garden.
I said that I wouldn't be surprised to hear "This pair of shorts are too expensive. I can't afford them", but I don't think it's standard. We use a plural verb with "pair" when we are thinking of the things as two items, as in "A pair of elephants were grazing near the camp." But a pair of shorts is clearly only one item.
It does say pair is used plural with certain clothing and lists shorts as one such item, but I want you to consider the examples you listed differently. Would you say, "I bought THIS new pair of binoculars last week" or "I bought THESE new pair of binoculars last week"? Would you say, "THIS old pair of trousers will be useful...." or "THESE old pair of trousers will be useful...."? I guess for me, the plural pronouns and verbs seem to sound better.
Where does it say that? because I cannot find it.
I think that "I bought THESE new pair of binoculars last week" is nonstandard. If I was editing formal writing, I would change "I bought THESE new pair of binoculars last week" to "I bought THIS new pair of binoculars last week". But if the former sounds fine to you, I'm not going to say you shouldn't use it.This message has been edited. Last edited by: goofy,
Isn't a pair of binoculars four oculars? Logic sometimes falls apart when run through my head. Why do we not say, "pair of brassieres?"
Some people do use "pair" as an invariant plural like "moose".
I bought one pair of binoculars.
I bought two pair of binoculars.
Is that what you're referring to?
This is from the link to the page on nouns Click Here . The formatting is different for the lists, but this is what it says:
"Nouns used only in the plural
Some nouns only have a plural form. They cannot be used with numbers. They include the names of certain tools, instruments and articles of clothing which have two parts.
Tools and instruments
Then on the first link about pronouns Click Here it tells what pronouns should be used with plural and singular nouns. Again, I am just following what it says. For me, what it says "sounds" correct to my ears, for others, perhaps, it doesn't. In the grand scheme of things, in my book, it's not very important and will leave this for others to discuss in more detail if desired.
ps. I have edited this to include the two links. It occurred to me that the second link might not have been seen by everyone as it was not in my first reply. So, I have included both links in this edited reply.This message has been edited. Last edited by: sattva,
sattva, maybe I've misunderstood you. I've read both of those pages and nowhere does it say that "I bought these new pair of binoculars last week" or "These pair of shorts" are acceptable.
"Shorts" and "binoculars" are always plural, but "pair of shorts" and "pair of binoculars" are singular because the head noun "pair" is singular. "Pair of X" can take a plural verb if you consider the thing to be 2 individual things, like "A pair of elephants were grazing near the camp." When the thing is considered to be a single item, then it takes a singular verb: "My new pair of jeans is expensive" (although I wouldn't be surprised to hear "are" here).
However, I might be surprised to hear a plural determiner with singular "pair" as in "I bought these new pair of binoculars last week".
For me, I think the difference is that the verb is closer to the plural noun, so it is more likely to be influenced by the plurality. And the determiner is closer to the singular noun "pair" so it singular.
Having said all that, I'm not judging you for using your language the way you use it. I try to explain, not complain.
I actually do think I see what you mean, goofy; but, to go back to Bob's original question and statement, I doubt if I, or most people I have known, would phrase it in that particular way. I would say, "These shorts are too expensive. I can't afford them." I guess using "pair of" changes things but sounds terrible, imho. So, Bob, my vote is to tell the person to cut the "pair of" from the whole sentence and then it will, blissfully, sound better! LOL
I'm with Bob, in that I'd say "this pair ..." without hesitation. I suspect it might be an American/UK difference. The first time I came across "these pair" was in an American TV show a while back. It jarred so much that I looked it up on the internet and found that both usages exist. Although it was not specifically mentioned as a US/UK difference, it looks like it may be.
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Interesting distinction. I would look at it this way:
"A pair of shorts" is one pair made up of two shorts. That's two short leg-covers, sewn together, and you buy one pair at a time, singular. (Unless of course you buy two pairs. Or two pair, if you must.)
But what is it you can't afford? That's ambiguous. Can't afford the pair, that's singular. Can't afford the shorts, that's plural. The sentence may not commit you to one or the other. Me, I buy shorts two at a time, in pairs. One pair of shorts (not a pair of pairs), but if they're too expensive I can't afford even one. "One what?" It depends. "Shorts" is plural. "Pair of shorts" is singular.
It's not precisely the same issue, but it's certain that singular and plural for some collective nouns are handled differently on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Did Arsenal win its match or their match? Did the New England Patriots?
Guiding principle: If a sentence sounds wrong or inconsistent, says the pragmatist in me, don't look it up so you can prove it's right, awkward-sounding or not. Rewrite it so it's clear.
Not that this helps your Chinese colleague, except to reinforce the often-arbitrary nature of the English language.
PS. I would consider "these pair" to be an error, even if it's in use. But then, I tend toward being a prescriptivist. Not everyone believes there is a "right" and a "wrong" in language. (Needless to say, I think they're wrong.)
I can't speak for America, of course, but I would be willing to bet money that no Brit would EVER say. "This pair if shorts is too expensive. I can't afford it."
It would always be "can't afford them".
In the other place that I asked the question the same objection to "pair of shorts" came up from an American who said he would simply never say it, only using "shorts" without "pair of".
This MUST be a US/UK difference because in the UK pair of shorts, pair of binoculars, pair of pants, pair of glasses is absolutely the standard usage with the version without "pair of" being perfectly acceptable but far less commonly heard.
As I said there, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind (or arnie's ) that C is the right answer. The question is how to explain why.
This really is interesting in a strange, car crash, kind of way. I did think of a place where I might use "This pair of shorts...." If I were in a department store and I was looking at shorts and I was going to say, try a pair on or buy a pair, if I noticed something was wrong with that particular pair of shorts I might say, "This pair of shorts has a hole in it. I am not going to buy it!" So, maybe, the idea in my mind and maybe some other Americans, though like I said, that could even be regional or a class issue, is that when I read the sentence, "This pair of shorts is too expensive" what I was thinking of is a whole rack or table of shorts, not a particular pair. I mean, who goes shopping somewhere that has only one pair of shorts to buy that are too expensive? Maybe, if you are going to a famous designer's exclusive boutique, but here we go to a department store at the mall where there is a rack of shorts or a table filled with them, all the same but for color and size. In the color and size you want, there might be anywhere from one to ten available, plus other sizes and colors, all made exactly the same.
Interesting discussion, and I am sorry I am late to this game.
I agree with Bob and arnie on this - I'd select C. In fact, I wouldn't even think about it.
I know that Sattva's link has been talked a lot between her and Goofy, but I think it agrees with C, by using the example of: "I bought a new pair of binoculars last week." The didn't go further, but I'd then say, "...and I like them."