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In the Oxford dictionary website, the following example for scissors is given:

A small suture scissors was used to "fish" for the deeply embedded hair.

However I find weird that it treats scissors as singular, being a plural noun. Shouldn't it be Small suture scissors were used...?

Why is it correct to treat scissors as singular in that case (assuming it's indeed correct)?

Please note that I'm only interested in the use of the noun scissors, the ones that are used to cut, not any other meaning of the word.

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    Do you have the same struggle with "foreceps"? Would it bug you if I said "hand me a small foreceps"? I think this is pretty common in medical jargon. It seems to me that it's related to the idea that in that field there is more than one type of scissors or foreceps.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 15, 2017 at 23:17
  • Hi @DanBron. Non-native speaker here. But even if there are more than one type of scissors, shouldn't it be Small ___ scissors were used...? Not sure they put as singular. Jul 15, 2017 at 23:21
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    It is interesting that Oxford says scissors is a plural noun and then uses the word as a singular. Even where it can be singular (like Oxford 1.2), it's an ordinary singular noun. I would go so far as to say that there is no example in standard English of a plural noun being treated as singular in this way, other than by being characterised as a pair of something. If this is medical jargon, then it should really be marked as such in the dictionary.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 15, 2017 at 23:24
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    @tchrist it is unfortunate that the accepted answer at the question you (or whoever) proposed as a duplicate begins with the incorrect statement "these words only have a plural form and require the verb in the plural." Jul 16, 2017 at 0:36
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    @DiegoJancic - My comment is describing the usage in your example as pedantic! It seems that 'a scissors' does have accepted modern usage, but only in specialist (medical) circles.
    – Dan
    Jul 16, 2017 at 0:45

3 Answers 3

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You can use scissors with a singular verb anytime you want. However, to prevent getting into arguments, you may wish to limit this usage to medical scissors. Or you can say 'if a scissors was good enough for Emily Brontë,
then it's good enough for me'.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) notes that using scissors with plural concord is "the usual form." However the same dictionary notes that scissors is also used with singular concord and does not describe this as dialectal or anything that might be considered non-standard. And examples range from 1565 to 2001, including:

1565 T. Cooper Thesaurus at Forfex A sisers, or sheares.

1847 E. Brontë Wuthering Heights I. ix. 164 Now, don't you think the lad would be handsomer cropped?.. Get me a scissors.

1909 Ophthalmol. 5 43 The scissors is inserted into the duct and the cut made as low down as possible.

You might notice this last usage is from the field of ophthalmology.

Google Books provides plenty of other examples of scissors being used with singular concord, including several instances in the medical field. For example:

With a scissors the surgical fascia is incised for 2-3 cm above the suprasternal notch, ...

and

With a scissors, divide the slip of the diaphragm that attaches to the posterior surface of the xiphoid, ...

From Manual of Pulmonary Surgery (Comprehensive Manuals of Surgical Specialties) by by E.W. Humphrey and D.L. McKeown (2012).

As in your example from the Oxford Dictionary online (borrowed from American Family Physician (link)) there are many uses of singular concord with regard to "medical scissors," but contemporary usage is not limited to this. But singular concord remains the "unusual form" (my quotes).

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    I think that we're witnessing the evolution of a word. Saying "A pair of scissors" to refer to a single object seems silly, and there's no such thing as "A scissor". It would therefore be logical to start to refer to the object as "A scissors" or "A scissor", and it may be the case that the medical profession is leading the way. In surgery, time is often tight and clear, quick communication may literally be a matter of life or death, so it's perhaps not surprising that they are leading the way on this matter. Jul 27, 2017 at 8:12
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    There are instances of 'a scissor', including this one among others. And some of the uses of 'a scissors' date back to 100 or more years ago, so I don't know about evolution of the word. @MaxWilliams Jul 30, 2017 at 11:07
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    @MaxWilliams that's what happened to "a pair of compasses," which became "a compass" over time.
    – Esther
    Jun 24 at 13:28
  • Could it be that 'a pair of...' satisfied a need some people felt for a word that sounds plural (even though there is no such thing as 'a' scissor) to be clearly, if nonsensically, plural?
    – Dan
    Jun 25 at 12:46
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According to the OED, scissors has a long history of use with a singular concordance (see examples below). Although the New English Dictionary (1910) - the original title of the Oxford English Dictionary - marks this sense as erroneous.

1565 T. Cooper Thesaurus at Forfex A sisers, or sheares.

1847 E. Brontë Wuthering Heights I. ix. 164 Now, don't you think the lad would be handsomer cropped?.. Get me a scissors.

2001 Independent 27 Dec. 12/4 Introduce the point of a scissors into the soft part.

(What a word! So many ways to spell it, according to the OED including cizers, cissors, chizors, shizzors, scithers, scidders and (my favourite) sizzers (Daniel Defoe, 1719).)

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  • Them shizzors the bizzors! Sorry. Jul 31, 2017 at 7:56
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You're right, the sentence contains a plural form of the noun, so it should read as:

Suture scissors were used

You may modify the phrase to a singular form:

A pair of suture scissors was used

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    But.....why is it correct? Jul 15, 2017 at 23:28
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    It contains a plural form of the noun but it uses a singular verb with it, which usage is not wrong, especially in the context of medical terminology. Jul 16, 2017 at 0:56
  • You dropped a word: the original quote was small suture scissors were used, which for some people makes a difference in the grammar. Mar 13, 2019 at 10:36

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