In Wiktionary the noun aid is defined as

aid (plural aids)

  1. Help; assistance; succor, relief.  
    He came to my aid when I was foundering.
  2. A helper; an assistant.  
  3. Something which helps; a material source of help.  
    Slimming aids include dietary supplements and appetite suppressants.

And then there is AIDS which is

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

I'm not a native speaker, and I may fail to understand a part of the context, so I need to have a clue from somewhere else.

When hearing: "Do you have/want aids?" How can I tell what this person is talking about?

I am not asking about formal context, but oral and possibly joking.

EDIT : I removed the government help part since comments are saying that is a mass noun and so, uncountable.

EDIT 2 : Some are arguing that "aid" in its meaning of help is not used in plural form. I searched on Corpus of Contemporary American English and find 3 examples of "aids" usage on the 200 first results.

I excluded the "{sense} aids" as in @MarkDriver answer to only keep basic usage and not special medical tool.

  1. Several risk management frameworks and tools have recently become available that will be valuable aids in preservation and curation work.
  1. I don't see any of those " Per Rialto " or " Per San Marco " signs, my navigational aids, on the sides of buildings.
  1. On the fourth hour of " The Today Show, " Hoda and Kathie Lee had a conversation about marital aids.
  • 7
    The word aid is a mass noun. Even before the syndrome AIDS was named, it was rarely (if ever?) pluralized; now, it never is. If you hear someone ask you "Do you want aids?", that person is either a non-native speaker or setting up a very grim joke. You should never ask "Do you want aids" or "Do you have aids" yourself. Only use aid (singular / mass) for the sense of assistance.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 16, 2015 at 12:38
  • 4
    @YohannV You can insist all you like. The reality is he same: aid is a mass noun, and in the sense of "rendering assistance" simply is not pluralized. We don't say "assistances", we don't say "helps" (as a plural noun) and we don't say "aids" (as a plural noun). These are all mass nouns and used as mass nouns. If you're interested in the fundamentals of mass nouns vs count nouns, as opposed to the word aid, specifically, you might get more helpful answers on English Language Learners, who have a lot of experience explaining the concepts to non-native speakers of English.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 16, 2015 at 12:50
  • 2
    As a UK native speaker I endorse entirely what @Dan Bron has said. Aid is a mass noun and is not pluralised. A.I.D.S. is an entirely different thing. The only legitimate use of aids, meaning assistance, would be as the third person of the verb to aid - she aids the distressed.
    – WS2
    Jun 16, 2015 at 12:50
  • 1
    As @Dan has mentioned incidentally, saying “AIDS […] AKA HIV” is factually incorrect. HIV is not the same as AIDS. Jun 16, 2015 at 13:02
  • 2
    @YohannV For serious purposes, you may discard Wiktionary from your toolkit. Its content and reliability are not on par with Wikipedia's. And yes, some dictionaries suit our individual tastes and mental models better than others, which is why I pointed out OneLook as a way to "shop around" for one that does work for you. But ultimately, using the dictionary or any other tool effectively is a matter of practice. It's easier for native speakers, of course, because we already "know" the answer, no only refer to the dictionary to get an explanation or research subtleties and nuances.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 16, 2015 at 13:30

3 Answers 3


Just to be clear, you're asking what is meant when someone says "Do you have aids?" or "Do you want aids?" in the context of spoken English, and possibly humour.

There are only two possible interpretations (owing to the aides/AIDS homonym):

  1. "Do you have/want AIDS?"

    • They are asking about the syndrome resulting from HIV
  2. "Do you have/want aides?"

    • They are asking about your assistants (people)

Anything else would grammatically incorrect and also not-colloquial enough to make a joke out of. This is because "aids" as you use in your question can not stand on its own in "Do you want aids?" It would have to be "Do you want aid?" (as in assistance, which is help-- not to be confused with "aides", as in assistants, who are people)

Edit: I spent some time considering marital aids (things that help in the bedroom such as sex toys, ED medications, etc) and came up with the following dialogue...

Jack: So me and the Mrs. got some new marital aids; it has really spiced things up.

Henry: Oh yeah? What sort of... *wink* aids?

Jack: I'd rather not go into details...

Henry: Right, probably for the best.

It's grammatically correct... and it makes sense. However using "aids" in this sense is VERY context specific and only works because of the previous dialogue. You would never use the word "aids" without having mentioned what kind previously, for context. Which is why if someone said something that sounded like "Do you have aids?" the meaning would almost never be ambiguous except for the AIDS/aides issue mentioned earlier.

Incoming bad joke:

Steve is the Director of Human Resources at BigCorp. George is his long time friend who works in a different department. They are out for drinks after work...

Steve: So the new VP wants me to give him aides.

George: I know it's not the death sentence it was 30 years ago, but what a strange request. (Makes the expression: ;D)

Steve: Haha, you know what I mean.

  • As you can see in my second edit examples, if the context is about "marital aids" for example, the person could think that talking about "aids" without a precising adjective will be understand.
    – Yohann V.
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:18
  • Hopefully my edit responds to your comment adequately, let me know if anything is still unclear. Keep in mind, of course, that someone could deliberately misinterpret "aids" for the sake of a joke.
    – mfoy_
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:41
  • @YohannV. When you're talking about marital aids, the context is such that it would be dangerous to the point of irresponsible to talk about "giving [your partner] aids". For that reason, in this context, shortening marital aids to something like "devices", or more commonly and less clinically "toys" is much more idiomatic. Alternatively, one could talk about specific devices and use words like "dildos", etc.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:43
  • 2
    @DanBron I totally misundertood what marital aids are.
    – Yohann V.
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:51
  • 1
    @Yohann does my crappy joke work? lol
    – mfoy_
    Jun 17, 2015 at 15:12


My question was not as good as I thought when it came in my mind so I am posting a proper answer based on comments (principally of @DanBron and @Mari-LouA)

The mistake

Three major meanings steered me to post this question :

  • AIDS, Acquired immune deficiency syndrome,
  • aid, mass noun synonym of help,
  • aids qualified with adjectives (medical, navigational, etc)

Why those meanings are not ambiguous :

  • AIDS, someone wishing you this is not worth rub shoulders with or is a terrible joker
  • aid is a mass noun, and in the sense of "rendering assistance" simply is not pluralized. We don't say "assistances", we don't say "helps" (as a plural noun) and we don't say "aids" (as a plural noun). (Dan's comment)

  • aids in its plural refers to objects and is always preceded by an adjectives to indicate what is the purpose of the tool (visual, hearing, ...).

And to conclude another Dan's comment :

That ambiguity ("multiple instances of the act of assisting" vs "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome") will never occur.

From where the mistake came

My question is coming from online gaming. It is a team game, where you don't often know your mates. There is multiple roles which are complementary and you have to play well alone and with your team to succeed to beat the enemy team.
People are not always nice and insults are coming very fast when you are starting to fail. Moreover, it is an international game in which natives are not the majority and english is not often correct.

After, have done a mistake, I was asked if I wanted aids. I refused politely because I was not sure about what it was and came here to ask.

  • Oh, woo! I thought you'd had forgotten about us and were never going to post your final answer. +1. But you know what I would really, really like? If you could include a summary of your actual, real-life original motivation (with as much detail as you're willing to share!) for asking this question in the first place. I'd personally find that really interesting, but more importantly I think it would help other people coming to English from another language, in the future.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 25, 2015 at 13:41
  • @DanBron I'll never forget you ! ;) I'll edit my answer in a couple of hours to add this situation.
    – Yohann V.
    Jun 25, 2015 at 13:50
  • 1
    Aha! Now it all makes sense! Such a sense of resolution! Thank you.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 25, 2015 at 18:37
  • 1
    +1 a bit late in the day, I had almost given up hope of seeing an answer. Interesting history, I see why you were confused when someone posted "Do want aids?". What a horrible, and ignorant person.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 23, 2015 at 12:02

The phonetic similarity between AIDS and aids or aides is sometimes used for dark comedic effect, either intentionally (as in the South Park episode “Jared has Aides”) or unintentionally (as in 1970s Ayds commercials).

  • 1
    My feeling is this should be a comment, rather than an answer.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 17, 2015 at 13:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.