Can you wear headphones (plural) in only one ear? Or would I have to use a singular form?

She wore headphones in one ear and listened to him with the other.

EDIT: I want to show that even though she has a set of headphones, she's only wearing a singular piece of it in one ear.

  • There is nothing wrong with "headphone", to describe a "headset" with only one earpiece.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 26 '20 at 20:54

Earphones/earbuds are those worn in the ears without a headband. While they come in pairs, one can have an earphone/earbud in one ear, leaving the other dangling.

Some, but not all, headphones have a band. The earphones or earcups (you may not find this in the dictionary) that make up the pair are worn over or on the ears. Thus, one can wear headphones with only one earcup/earphone on.

Your example could be correctly written in a number of equivalent ways:

  • She wore an earphone in one ear and listened to him with the other.
  • She had headphones on with an earcup slid off so she could also listen to him.
  • She left an earbud in one ear and listened to him with the other.
  • She wore headphones but had only one ear covered while she listened to him with the other.
  • She wore headphones with only one earcup on, and listened to him with the other ear.
  • She wore headphones with a cup over one ear and listened to him with the other.

Once the word earphone is used, it is implied that it is present in a pair or set of earphones/headphones, with only a very few exceptions.

  • You can wear your headphones over both ears and say, figuratively, "I'm listening to you with one ear and my headphones with the other." It implies that the volume of sound in the headphones is not so high that you can't hear the person speaking to you.
    – oosterwal
    Mar 4 '11 at 2:02
  • 1
    One notable example for your exceptions comes from The Who's rock opera Tommy. "Put in your earplug, put on your eye shades, you know where to put the ball." Of course this was written in the good old days of transistor AM radios with a mono jack for a single earplug. ;-)
    – oosterwal
    Mar 4 '11 at 2:05
  • @oosterwal: Nice one. I was also thinking of those phones that come with only one earbud/phone with an attached mouthpiece. You rarely find those anymore, however.
    – Jimi Oke
    Mar 4 '11 at 2:09
  • Those are still fairly common for DJs.
    – oosterwal
    Mar 4 '11 at 2:16
  • @oosterwal: True, indeed! And for stage performers, as well (thespians, musicians, etc).
    – Jimi Oke
    Mar 4 '11 at 2:18

In one ear, it's an earphone. The New Oxford American Dictionary actually defines headphones as:

a pair of earphones typically joined by a band placed over the head, for listening to audio signals such as music or speech

  • Don't agree. Earphones and headphones are different technologies with different implementations. shure.com/americas/products/earphones-headphones/index.htm Mar 3 '11 at 15:10
  • We'll have to agree to disagree, then. Even before they fitted inside one's ears, they were already called earphones. It's not a question of different technology. Earphones don't have to be in-ear headphones or earbuds.
    – F'x
    Mar 3 '11 at 15:13
  • Can you point me to a company selling earphones which are not "in the ear"? Mar 3 '11 at 15:24
  • 2
    Why does it need to be current? Radios came with earphones when I was a kid (or you could buy earphones at places like Radio Shack). Some of them went in the ear, some were rather like supra-aural or circumaural headphones with one side abbreviated, others were a sort of cup that went over the pinna, but all were earphones.
    – bye
    Mar 4 '11 at 3:14

As with pants, which always come as a pair, headphones always come as a set.

I can put on my pants, one leg at a time, before going to the store to buy a new pair of pants. I can also wear my old headphones while shopping for a new set of headphones.

  • 1
    Agree. "She wore headphones in one ear and listened to him with the other" is perfectly understandable as would be "she was interrupted while dressing and was wearing her pants on one leg."
    – ghoppe
    Mar 3 '11 at 18:47
  • What about scissors? Mar 3 '11 at 23:11
  • @mickeyf: please don't put scissors in your ear :)
    – F'x
    Mar 4 '11 at 7:43
  • @mickeyf: more seriously, scissors are made of two blades, and you can refer to one of the blades “he dropped the scissors and one of the blade broke”
    – F'x
    Mar 4 '11 at 7:44

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