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  1. a new pair of shoes / pants / scissors
  2. a pair of new shoes / pants / scissors

I can’t find which one of those two it should be, and I’ve seen some debate about it.

“A new pair of shoes”: Could it imply that the shoes previously were part of a different pair?

But on the other hand, if it’s a pair of shoes, why would one have to state that both shoes are new when saying a pair of new shoes?

Which is correct, or doesn’t it matter?

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Both are found, but a new pair of . . . is four times as frequent as a pair of new . . . in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and over five times as frequent in the British National Corpus.

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It looks like there's some regional variation here. I'm fairly sure that a New Zealander would never say "a pair of new pants" or "a pair of new scissors". Possibly "a pair of new shoes", but this would be unusual. For me, all three would have to be "a new pair of ..." every time. I would be interested in knowing if there are dialects that have the opposite tendency. –  user16269 Aug 5 '12 at 12:32
    
@David Wallace: I, too, would use 'a new pair of . . .' A closer inspection of the corpora would show the contexts in which the alternative is found. –  Barrie England Aug 5 '12 at 14:32
    
@BarrieEngland "the contexts in which the alternative is found" suggests that the implication/ emphasis depends on context. –  Kris Oct 19 '12 at 4:56
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@Kris: Everything depends on context. –  Barrie England Oct 19 '12 at 6:22
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The terms pair of scissors and pair of pants both refer to single objects that are, in normal use, never separated into the components that make them nominally a pair. When these terms are modified, they are modified as a whole — effectively a new pair-of-pants or new pair-of-scissors.

Shoes exist singly as well as in pairs (though rarely used individually). Did you see my other shoe? (But not, Did you see my other ∗scissor?) As such, the pair of shoes phrase is not locked as one.

I fully agree with other answers that new pair of shoes is more common than pair of new shoes. However, the latter is logical and correct, even though it is probably not the preferred form.

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The final sentence may be worded oddly; it seems to say that "pair of new shoes" is preferred over "new pair of shoes" in general use. –  Pantalones Aug 5 '12 at 13:19
    
@Pantalones - changed to address your comment. –  bib Aug 5 '12 at 21:16
    
A "pair of new shoes" would imply each of the two shoes is new -- could one be old?. OTOH, A "new pair of shoes" takes the focus away from pair , (which is not relevant as such). –  Kris Oct 19 '12 at 5:00
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One thing that's fascinating about this question is the change over time in the usage of the phrases "new pair of shoes", "pair of new shoes", "old pair of shoes", "pair of old shoes". Consider the following ngram from Google:

enter image description here

Two observations: First, that 'fronted new' takes off in the 20th century, when hitherto the position of new seemed to be of no importance. Could that reflect the influence of advertising copy ("new and improved" is always at the front) and/or the rising ideology of conspicuous consumption? The second interesting thing is the rise of fronted new through the Great Depression with a peak during WWII. Certainly, the newness of a pair of shoes during that period of economic hardship may have been especially notable, and so 'new' might for that reason have been placed more often at the front.

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Context, Merk, Context! Context-free analysis tells us nothing. –  Kris Oct 19 '12 at 5:00
    
OP's question concerned the correctness of alternative forms. The graph is solid prima facie evidence that both forms are correct since they both occur in typewritten materials at frequencies falling within the same order of magnitude. Additional context could only contribute by providing some reason to believe otherwise; for example, if "New Pair of Shoes" was the name of a popular rock group. –  Merk Oct 19 '12 at 6:39
    
1. Which is correct? 2. Does it matter (how we write it)? The second part needs to be answered as well. –  Kris Oct 19 '12 at 7:21
    
I would have expected "Which is correct, and does it matter?" to be two questions, not "Which is correct, or doesn't it matter?" I'll leave that for the questioner to decide, but I do think that leaves us a far cry away from "context-free analysis tells us nothing." Surely one questioned answered is better than none, no? –  Merk Oct 19 '12 at 7:29
    
"Surely one questioned answered is better than none," Yes. Mark, after all, I haven't down voted or anything. Take comments and criticism along the way. :) –  Kris Oct 19 '12 at 7:32
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