The plural of pair is pairs, so why isn't the poker hand called two pairs?

There is presumably a historical reason - what is that reason?

  • 1
    Addressed in part at ELL:three pair vs three pairs. – Edwin Ashworth May 12 '17 at 20:13
  • I think the short answer is that it describes the hand. "What kind of hand do you have?" "I have a pair." "I have a straight." "I have a flush." "I have two pairs(?)" Then that would be the only plural form of a poker hand. Calling it a "two pair" means it can modify "hand," as in "a two-pair hand," and it allows that hand type to syntactically match all the other hand types. – RaceYouAnytime May 12 '17 at 20:19
  • 1
    @RaceYouAnytime If 'three pair of shoes' was regularly used 200 years ago, as Peter Shor's response at the ELL thread claims, this argues against your from-the-attributive-usage explanation. – Edwin Ashworth May 12 '17 at 20:25
  • @race like a "four door car"? No, because the usage is always as a noun, not an adjective, ie "you have two pair". It's never "you have a two pair hand". – Bohemian May 12 '17 at 21:08
  • @Bohemian by no means is my comment a complete answer, but I do think it's relevant that all other hand types are singular. That way you can say "We both have straights and they both have two pairs." – RaceYouAnytime May 12 '17 at 21:12

According to Ngram, in general "two pair" was more common than "two pairs" before 1840:

Poker, according to Wikipedia, was invented before 1840. At that point, "two pair" would have been the more popular form.

  • Love the data to back the answer – Bohemian May 12 '17 at 23:37

The plural of pair is pairs


According to Merriam-Webster, “the usual plural is pairs, when there is no preceding number or indicator of number (as several).” It gives “conflicting pairs of truths” as an example. But unlike the more traditional sticklers above, M-W concedes, strangely, that “when a number or indicator of number precedes pair, either pair or pairs may be used,” going on to cite examples such as “six pair of pants” and “three pairs of oars.” American Heritage recognizes that while “pairs” is the more common plural form, “pair” is not incorrect. It qualifies that “pair” or “pairs” can be used after a number other than one, “but the plural is now more common: She bought six pairs (or pair) of stockings.”

from here, and there are many more opinions listed as well. http://www.glossophilia.org/?p=4812

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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