Perhaps the same goes for nappy versus nappies. Since when one is changing one of these, there are two involved. But, is the plural more along the lines of pants and shorts?

Does anybody out there feel like one of them is "wrong"? I would lean toward the singular being less natural, but I'm fairly sure I have been caught using them both rather freely.

If I talk about diaper-changing, I don't think I would accept diapers-changing, while with pants, I would insist on pants-changing (if ever I had to use it) - perhaps enumerating a costume change? However, the term pantless has just sprung to mind.

Shortchanging would just be ambiguous...

  • 2
    Pants and shorts are plural because they have two legs to them. A diaper is not a 'pair' in the way that shorts is 'a pair'.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 7, 2019 at 12:27
  • 1
    Can you give a sentence in which you'd use your target word?
    – Mitch
    Jan 7, 2019 at 12:33
  • English doesn’t concatenate words as freely as, say, German. “Diaper changing” works because idiomatically, that construct has the noun in its base case.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 7, 2019 at 13:14
  • Nigel J, I've heard underpants, briefs, or underwear referred to as a "pair," so making diapers plural is at least imaginable. I'll think about this one. Jan 7, 2019 at 14:20
  • 1
    Since you asked, I feel that the plural is wrong. I change a baby’s diaper not its diapers. The “two” that are involved are the old one and the new one. If that were cause to use the plural, then. I’d also be changing my tires when I got a flat.
    – Jim
    Jan 7, 2019 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


I could say diaper-changing but could also say changing diapers. This answer will be complex: in short, the singular tends to refer to a single instance of changing a diaper or forms most compounds involving diaper-related items; the plural tends to refer to a state of wearing diapers or a repetitive action of changing diapers. There is some crossover, or specific uses where the plural diapers would be used in place of the singular, but those uses are fairly restricted.

A little bit of history: diaper originally referred to a pattern of cloth that involves crossing, especially in a diamond or diamond-like shape. This sense transferred to the cloths (towels and napkins) that bore the pattern, and then to one of the uses of said cloths: cleaning up after a baby. By the 19th century the diaper's modern use as soilable underwear for babies was widespread. (In the UK and related countries nappy formed to refer to the same garment.)

As a word, diaper has several uses in the singular. It forms several compounds, like diaper bag (where one stores diapers during travel), diaper pail (where dirty diapers are disposed), diaper rash (a rash commonly associated with diaper use), and diaper cake (a cake-shaped arrangement of many diapers made for baby showers). (All are attested by the Oxford English Dictionary.)

The search results for "change a diaper" suggest the usage is very common: the first results are for advice on how to change a diaper.

Can diapers function in the same way as pants? This Language Log post suggests it sometimes can, although the use of "diapers" in the plural to refer to a single diaper is limited to some cases where the dual sense bleeds over from similar garments. (The post and its follow-ups are all worth a read, since precisely how similar to pants the word is remains contentious.)

What about other uses of diapers in the plural?

"Change diapers" appears to be used to describe the activity in general or the activity repeated over time, like this:

I change diapers fairly often.

That said, I can think of at least one meaning works with diapers but not diaper: when someone's literal or metaphorical state (suggesting inexperience) involves being in a diaper, we can say they are in diapers, describing a state and acting as a metonym for early childhood. This usage is a bit subtle for a Google search but emerges in a Corpus of Contemporary American English search. For instance, here's Bellamy Young in a 2017 interview with Fox News describing her character "Mellie" from ABC's show Scandal:

" You know, Mellie was president in her own mind she since she was in diapers so I think she concerns herself less -- it's more of an annoyance for her to be noticed for what she's wearing or how her looks or whatever, " said Young. # " In her heart, she knows her policy, she knows her politics, she has a vision of what she wants to achieve for the country, " she added.

The multifaceted or rambling nature of this answer should suggest how varied the uses of diaper and diapers are.

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