A pair of glasses, it or them?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by volt, May 9, 2010.

  1. volt Senior Member

    English -US
    "I have a pair of glasses for my poor eyesight. I wear them/it every day. I clean them/it carefully. They/it were/was stolen."

    Should one always use "they" or "them", not "it", in the above case?

    Does one always use plural to refer to anything that is in pairs, even if it is just one integrated object (rather than "a pair of shoes", when there are actually two separate shoes)?
  2. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    You really should say it when referring to the pair, and they when referring to the glasses.
    Same with shoes: that is my favourite pair, those are my favourite shoes.
    But I'm sure a lot of people will confuse the two, and it doesn't sound very wrong when you hear it.
  3. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Plural for me:)
    I have a pair of glasses for my poor eyesight. I wear them every day. I clean them carefully. They were stolen.
  4. volt Senior Member

    English -US
    OK, what about:

    "I have two pairs of glasses. This one is better than that one."

    It would sound odd to say
    "This one are better than that one."
    because I think "This one" stands for "This pair", right?

    * * *

    Now what about:
    "Are those your glasses on the table?"
    "Is that your glasses on the table?"

    Which is the correct way to say?
  5. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    I have a pair of glasses and I wear them every day. Indeed, I have several pairs. I wear one of them nearly all of the time when I am awake. I have never referred to any one pair of them as "it".

    However, I might say "that pair of glasses suits you." But if I repeated myself for emphasis it would be "Yes, they really do suit you" and not "Yes, it really does suit you"

    Edited because:
  6. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    THOSE (because referring to glasses, plurial)
  7. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
  8. seskobg New Member

    whose are these\those glasses on the table? - is that correct?
  9. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Yes, it is
  10. Garbuz Senior Member

    As far as I can see, the problem with the phrase 'a pair of glasses' is that the logic of subject verb concord does not meet the logic of personal pronoun substitute.

    There is a pair of glasses on the table.
    But: I have a pair of glasses for my poor eyesight. I wear them every day. (as Loob has pointed out).

    That said, two questions follow:
    1) Is it the case only with scissors or other binary objects as well?
    2) Can any reasonable explanation be worked out for this discrepancy?
  11. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Plural for me. "Where are my glasses? I can't read what's on the screen without them."
  12. Sparky Malarky

    Sparky Malarky Moderator

    English - US
    But be aware that no one would say "I have a pair of glasses and I wear them every day." Why? I have no idea. We would just say "I have glasses and I wear them every day," or "I wear glasses." "I wear glasses only for reading." "I wear glasses all the time." But we would say "My glasses broke and I had to buy a new pair."
  13. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I agree with Sparky Malarky. I would never say, "Where's my pair of glasses?"
  14. Garbuz Senior Member

    How about 'I have a pair of glasses and I wear it every day'?
  15. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    I would, and so would Loob above. "I do have a pair of glasses that I use when I drive at night." (True story.)
  16. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    There really isn't as much of a discrepancy as it might seem at first, Garbuz. When you're talking about a pair of glasses, in most cases, pair is treated as singular and glasses is treated as plural. That's the way glasses are ordinarily written or spoken about. When sentences don't follow this pattern, it's usually because of a simple error - for example, the speaker started to say "pair of glasses" but changed in mid-speech to "glasses" but didn't make the proper shift in the verb.

    It's a little different for "I have a pair of glasses for my poor eyesight. I wear them every day." First, most people wouldn't say "I have a pair of glasses for my poor eyesight." They'd just say "I have glasses for my poor eyesight." That's a minor issue though since pair of glasses is certainly used in many contexts.

    Second, most speakers would invariably use the singular to refer to pair of glasses - but that's in a single sentence. They might very well be a bit lax about carrying the single-ness or plural-ness over to the next sentence. For example:
    "That pair of glasses on the table is mine." This is all one sentence, so pair of glasses is treated the same throughout the sentence.
    "I lost a pair of glasses. Oh, there they are on that table." There are two sentences, so the speaker might shift from singular to plural from sentence to sentence.
  17. Garbuz Senior Member

    I like this theory of mind-shift. :)
    'There is a pair of glasses on the table. They are mine.'
    What if this shift doesn't occur? Would it be also correct to say '... It is mine'?
  18. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    It would be correct, but I confess (now that I have thought more about it) that I would almost never say that and it would sound odd to me if I heard someone else say it. I'm not sure why except that perhaps for me, the emphasis in pair of glasses is almost always on glasses, not pair. So I'll use the singular when I am specifically talking about a pair of glasses, but at the earliest possible opportunity, the idiomatic speech generator in my head shifts over to the plural glasses.
  19. Garbuz Senior Member

    Would it work the same way, for example, for trousers?
    There is a pair of trousers on the bed. They are mine. (or It is mine?)
  20. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    As with trousers and scissors, we usually do not say 'pair of' unless we have to.

    So I might say I was going out to buy 'new glasses' and when I come back I might say 'They were selling two pairs of glasses for the price of one'.
  21. Garbuz Senior Member

    Does it mean it would sound odd to say 'There is a pair of trousers on the bed'?
  22. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    No, not at all. Both "There's a pair of trousers on the bed" and "There are some trousers on the bed" are perfectly idiomatic. You'd use "pair" if you wanted to talk about just one pair. Trousers (without "pair of") could be used to refer to one or more pairs.
  23. Garbuz Senior Member

    So why does this mind-shift occur? Interesting problem! :)
  24. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    The surprising part isn't that the mind-shift occurs. The surprising part is the basic, underlying peculiarity, which is that of referring to what is clearly a single item (a pair of spectacles/glasses, a pair of scissors/shears, a pair of trousers/pants) as a pair, or as two items. That's the peculiarity from which all other peculiarities spring, including thinking of one of them in the singular in one sentence and in the plural in the next, as singular in some contexts and as plural in others. The mind-shift occurs, I think, because of the intrinsic impossibility of thinking of a particular something as simultaneously singular and plural. The mind, and idiomatic expression, can only do so much when confronted with this oddity.
  25. volt Senior Member

    English -US
    On the other hand, when it comes to the word "couple", referring to spouses, don't we often say something like the following?

    "There is a couple who live [not lives] in that big house."

    One singular, the other plural? Or maybe we don't say so?
  26. Garbuz Senior Member

    I believe 'pair' as such is looked at as an artificial word in the names of binary objects. So as soon it is no longer in the sentence, it sweeps out of mind.
  27. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    It really depends on what we mean to be talking about, number or nature.

    Glasses, scissors, or people may "come in" pairs or groups of various sizes. When we talk about a pair or a group, we use singular; when we talk about the things or people themselves, we use plural. Similarly, when we talk about steel, the material, it is noncount by nature, but when we talk about a piece of steel, it is singular, and two pieces, plural.

    I have a pair of glasses for my poor eyesight. I have a pair of them, not a pair of it.
    I wear them every day. I wear the glasses, not the pair. Yes, they are in the frame, and you could say I wear that, but it is the glasses I wear, any way that is convenient, because of my eyesight.

    A number of people have complained. The people complained, not their number.

    But: The number of people in this room is excessive. The number is excessive, not the people. I must insist that I, at least, am not excessive.

    Obviously a "glass" is a lens, and two of them, joined by a little frame that fits on my nose and ears, constitute a pair. But as far as I know scissors are always in pairs, even the ones I can separate and put in the dishwasher.

    A trouser, I believe, is the same thing as a pair of trousers, or maybe it is a type or brand of trousers, or an exemplar of such.
  28. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    The only time I hear either trousers or pants (or, for that matter, jeans - another word that's almost invariably plural) used in the singular is in the context of a discussion about fashion: "A straight-legged trouser is flattering to most figure types." This seems to be a peculiarity of the fashion industry or the fashion-minded because you never hear this in regular conversations.

    In contrast, glasses (when the reference is to spectacles, as opposed to drinking vessels) is always plural. If we want to talk about one of the glass or plastic bits that one sees through, lens is the only word that works, as far as I know.
  29. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    With all the flexibility in general between singular and plural, I think it may be beside the point here. After all, if someone asks, "Whose is that pair of glasses on the table?", we're not obliged to respond, "The pair of glasses (hence "it") is mine". We can just as easily reply, "The glasses (hence "they") are mine".
    "I bought a kilo of apples, but I don't remember where I left them"(the pronoun refers to the apples, not to the kilo).
  30. lavenderhoney New Member

    The term derives from the fact that eyeglasses came in singles and pairs, unlike scissors or trousers. Ever seen a pair of scissors with one blade missing or trousers with one leg cut off? A monocular was suitable as well. Do an online search for 'antique monocular' for examples. Lenses were costly, more so then now and they were custom made to order. At a time when literacy was a privilege obtainable by the wealthy/clergy, eye lenses were not as mass produced or as common as they are today. Why buy two lenses, plus the frame, when its use was required for one eye? Or, if the wearer was, say, farsighted? A pair literally means a pair of glass lenses to one frame. By today's standards a pair of eyeglasses are conveniently but awkwardly shortened to just glasses. Though, in retrospect, we're alluding to an object on the table that is a frame with two viewing lenses and not a pair of actual glasses (juice glasses?) The terminology can be tricky at times. Retailers use the term 'a pair' for promotional devices, which also leads to confusion. For example, "Buy a single pair of glasses and get another pair free!" The phrasing is worse when it comes to a buy one get two free sale, "Buy a single pair of glasses and get two pairs free". Why can't they simply say, "buy one, get one free", and leave it at that?

    Ideally, you would refer to the object as them, since they are actually a pair of glass lenses. Using 'it' to refer to the object sounds odd considering the plural use of 'glass'. Just remember, glasses are actually two glass lenses on a frame. If it had a single lens, then 'it' would be suitable since you would be referring to a monocular. Think monoculars and binoculars.
  31. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    You have conveniently left out what is on offer (a pair of glasses) in your "Buy one, get one free" suggestion. Buy one what? If the sign were in the middle of a case of glasses, it would work. But if it's stuck on the shop window, then you would want ...

    Buy one pair of glasses, get two pairs free.

    I don't think we'd say "Buy a single pair of glasses, get two pairs free."
  32. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Historically wrong, there!

    The original trousers in the late Middle Ages were a pair of hose: two separate legs that tied individually to the belt.
    And a pair of scissors was originally a pair of chisels (the French word for the two things is still the same).
    Likewise, Mediaeval glasses were on two arms hinged over the bridge of the nose (looking like the handles of a pair of scissors; see for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Medieval_Spectacles.jpg).

    I'd be prepared to lay bets that this is why, linguistically, we see these paired objects as a plural, centuries after they became physically fused. A shirt or a pitchfork, on the other hand, were never split into two separate sleeves or two separate prongs, so it never occurred to us to use a plural noun for them, despite their bifurcate shape.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2012

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