Can the word "pair" be used for two things that are not exactly the same but are part of the same package?

Let's say that we have two color schemes (or themes) for a computer program. One scheme is dark, and the other one is light. Despite the fact that they're obviously different, they're both part of the same package. How would this be described?

Add/Enable [xyz] themes, a pair of highly accessible themes.

Add/Enable [xyz] themes, a set of highly accessible themes.

Considering there are only two, I don't think that "collection" works, so I'm trying to decide between 'pair' and 'set.' I would be grateful for any suggestions.

  • Reminder: Don't add a comment to write an answer. Put your answer in the "Your Answer" box.
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 2 at 12:34
  • I have two grandchildren - each of my two children has one child. They are not twins, but they are related. I usually just say I have a pair of grandchildren, or grandsons, if I want to specify the gender. They're quite a pair. Feb 2 at 17:37
  • 1
    They would be a pair of high accessibility themes, not highly accessible themes.
    – Phil Sweet
    Feb 2 at 18:12
  • "set" often suggests more than 2, but not in all cases, and you wouldn't want to disappoint them by promising them more. "A set of chopsticks" would be 2, but "a set of tools" would probably have more items. How many themes do you normally get in a pack?
    – Stuart F
    Feb 3 at 14:21
  • Generally, pairs of things match (are of the same type) each other. Sets don't. So, I have many pairs of socks and a single chess set.
    – Lambie
    Feb 3 at 15:17

6 Answers 6


In dictionary definition, it is not easy to justify using the noun 'in the way suggested. The Cambridge English dictionary, for example, provides definitions that emphasise 'natural' pairs or items designed to be considered together.

two things of the same appearance and size that are intended to be used together, or something that consists of two parts joined together:

two people who have a romantic relationship or are doing something together:

two animals that come together to have sex and produce young:

The last two give some room for semantic manoeuvre. The idea of two things 'belonging together' could, I think, accommodate what you are looking for. We do, after all, speak of a 'couple' of people as being 'quite a pair', often meaning that from their behaviour, habits, preferences you would never guess they would get on as well as they obviously do.

From there, it is not a giant step to the idea that a pair of colour schemes could match and constitute a 'pair'. Why you would want to use 'pairing' rather than 'matching' or 'blending' (or even 'contrasting') is another question. But it is possible.


All the definitions for pair that I've found stress that the elements must be in some way associated. Collins, for instance, has (emphasis mine):

pair: (1) two identical, similar, or corresponding things that are matched for use together


Often, the degree of association is strong; in the extreme, we have 'a pair of trousers / glasses / scissors ...'.

But 'in some way associated' is loose, open to interpretation ... subjective.

The fact that there are about 1.75 million hits in a Google search for the string "unlikely pair" indicates that the 'association' involved when the word 'pair' is used can often be surprising, unexpected ... there being a far from obvious match. Perhaps no more than an accidental juxtaposition, a necessary collaboration of people, or a contrived connection. Two items in a catholic collection.

Below are some examples of the collocation taken from the internet:

  • Unlikely Pair

A nurse received a bag that was supposed to contain two vials of the diuretic furosemide.... However, when the nurse read the labels on the [identical-looking] vials, she found that one contained the sedative midazolam.... [modified] [Journals: Nursing 2022]

  • An Unlikely Pair? Anger and Kindness [Belong]
  • The Unlikely Pair

General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer were a study in contrasts, yet both were indispensable to the success of the Manhattan Project. [Atomic Energy Foundation; 2014]

  • 1
    The term "corresponding" may well apply in the question's context, although it's unclear whether the twoness of pair is particularly relevant. It might be, if there's a "light" and a "dark" theme, for example. Feb 3 at 12:48

pair noun 1 two identical, similar, or corresponding things that are matched for use together -dictionary.com

Although the definition suggests that pairs must share some kind of sameness, in common usage, only the category needs to be the same. That is, in a pair of XYZs (plural), each item in the pair must be an XYZ (singular).

  • A pair of socks: each item must be a sock, even if the socks are mismatched.
  • A pair of hammers: each item must be a hammer, even if one is a sledgehammer and the other is a judge's gavel.
  • A pair of cards: each item must be a card, even if one is a King and the other is an Ace.

It's possible to specify that the pair is identical or that they are different:

  • A pair of identical twins, a pair of identical masks.
  • A pair of mismatched socks, a pair of opposite colours.
  • In my (admittedly limited) experience a 'pair' of cards implies that the value of the card is the same. Thus an ace of spades and an ace of diamonds form a pair and a two of clubs and a two of hearts form a pair but an ace of spades and a king of spades do not.
    – BoldBen
    Feb 3 at 15:48
  • @BoldBen I hadn't considered that 'specialist' usage - pair, three-of-a-kind, etc. I was referring more generically - 'card' might even refer to index cards or name cards, and one can have a pair of them. In that more generic context, the individual cards in a pair don't need to be identical.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 3 at 18:02

Your question is tagged technical, so I'll be technical.

cppreference.com defines pair as

a class template that provides a way to store two heterogeneous objects as a single unit.

(Emphasis mine.) Since heterogeneous means diverse, then you can certainly pair two dissimilar items that, for your purposes, belong together in some fashion.

From a non-technical standpoint, you could talk of pairing the light and dark themes in the same way that people speak of pairing a particular wine with a particular entrée, because they're complementary in some way.


The natural English usage of pair only implies association, not identity.

Two young (or not so young) people of the opposite sex are often regarded as a pair, and are often said to “pair” off for recreational or procreational purposes.

Even in a technical sense I fail to see any justification for not regarding two complementary things as a pair.


Yes, the word "pair" can be used for two things that are part of the same package, even if they are not exactly the same. So in this case, you could use the phrase "a pair of highly accessible themes."

  • 2
    It is unclear what exactly is this answer intended to add to the ones that have already been posted.
    – jsw29
    Feb 2 at 16:38

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