I'd like to use this word correctly but the two dictionaries are saying two different things.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, combats (in British English) means

combat trousers/pants. Another word from British English would be cargo pants.

However, Macmillan Dictionary offers a different meaning. According to them, combats are

clothes with a military style that are worn by ordinary people.

I know that the Macmillan D. focuses on American English therefore I want to ask the natives which ways they've come across while using this word.

I focus more on British English so I'd like to know whether people from the UK would understand me if I said combats referring to the meaning of Macmillan Dictionary.

Thank you for your responses.

  • If those dictionary quotes are from their online dictionaries, then you should include the hyperlink in your post.
    – AndyT
    Jun 15, 2017 at 13:11
  • 4
    It may well be dependent on context. combats can be short for combat trousers or for combat fatigues, as a British-English speaker I would not expect it to relate to any other kind of 'military style' clothing worn by civilians. For example, a Great Coat might be military'style or even military surplus, but you wouldn't call it 'combats'.
    – Spagirl
    Jun 15, 2017 at 13:14
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    Also... Your MacMillan quote seems to be from the MacMillan Open Dictionary rather than their Main Dictionary. It is crowd sourced and they say only about half of everything published there makes it into their lexicographer compiled dictionary.
    – Spagirl
    Jun 15, 2017 at 13:21
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    Collins English Dictionary says the word combat can be used as a modifier like combat jacket and that's the same usage that native speakers I know use in the US. I suppose it would be understandable if someone said something like I see you're wearing your combats today with an implied reference to whatever battle dress uniform items I had on, so if I was wearing trousers and a matching shirt and cap all in military camo it would understandably refer to all of those without needing to actually name each item separately. Also common would be hunting gear for these kinds of clothes.
    – Brillig
    Jun 15, 2017 at 14:28

1 Answer 1


In British English, with no further qualification, if almost certainly means combat (style) trousers. You normally get some hints of context anyway. Examples:

  • "The suspect was wearing combats and a leather jacket."
  • "Combats £20" (implying a single item).

If someone was dressed all over in military garb, you could describe them as wearing "full combats" or "fatigues", the latter implying actual army surplus rather than a high-street imitation.

Note that cargo pants is only acceptable in British English to the limited extent it's been adopted as a whole phrase from American use. Pants doesn't mean trousers (it means underwear) in most British English, though the trousers meaning had some currency in parts of the north of England and in some set phrases (yoga pants).

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