Grammar for 'a pair'

Hi, I crave your knowledge and indulgence.

Is it ‘there was a pair of crutches in the corner.’

or ‘there **were **a pair of crutches in the corner.’

I’ve confused myself between “a=was” and “pair=were”

Please educate me (briefly) on any exceptions or special conditions such as differences for a pair of trousers (single object) and pair of doves (two objects)

Sorry if this has been covered before (a link would be wonderful), I’m new to the search function and couldn’t find anything.

“Pair” is a singular noun, so “There was a pair of crutches in the corner” is correct. As far as I know, a pair of anything (trousers, ducks, nuclear warheads…) is singular.

Of course, there could be more than one pair. “There were two pairs of crutches in the corner.”

Edit to add: This is generally true of all collective nouns. “There was a herd of cows in the field.” Of course there were many actual cows, but only one herd.

I am not a language specialist, but I believe you should treat this as singular rather than plural. A “pair” is a particular form of a group, and a group is singular. I would say, for example, “Yesterday, there was a flock of geese flying overhead.” It should be used the same as other group names, a herd of cattle, a pack of wolves, etc. The group can be pluralized. “Several flocks of geese were overhead during the day.”

I am willing to be educated otherwise , but that’s MO.

Edit window missed, so I’ll clarify: “pair” is collective, not singular. But treat collective nouns as singular unless you mean to refer to more than one of the collection. Hence “One pair is/was”, “two pairs are/were”.

Not a specialist myself, but an Eng-Lit major if that counts for anything :smiley:

My understanding is that you are correct.

Edit reason: An Eng-Lit major who can’t spell “and”, apparently.

Thanks very much, the pair of you.

You are most welcome.

Both seem right to me.

In my ideolect, “A pair of X” can be parsed as “A single thing, to wit, a pair of X.” But “A pair” can also be analyzed (again, in my ideolect,) as behaving in a way to the word “two.” I would say “There were two ducks” and I might say “There were a pair of ducks” or “A pair of ducks were approaching me.”


I’m certainly no grammar nazi, so I feel that as long as your meaning is clear, say what you want. This is especially true of colloquial speech. But the plurality of “pair” is implied by the word itself. To all intents and purposes, it is a singular noun.

This is definitely something where both forms are acceptable to various people in various ways, as Frylock points out. It’s particularly notable as a point of difference between American English and British English, the way agreement for collective nouns is normally treated (Americans usually use singular agreement for collective nouns and Brits generally use plural agreement, though there are all kinds of nuances and idiosyncrasies, as with most things in natural language).

In short…: synesis

That’s what got me stuck in the first place! I went round in so many circles with it, I was afraid of disappearing up my own parse-hole!

It was also why I specifically asked about the crutches, as they are two separate objects but usually found together.

I’ll check back periodically, but for the moment I’m thinking that the “collective as singular” was what I learned. That particular phrase certainly struck a spark in the nether regions of my brain.

And Paul, yes, colloquially I’d use what ‘felt’ right, but it’s for a story and that particular character is a grammar nazi.

Do keep in mind, as a native speaker, your own intuition for the rules of standard English is generally far more trustworthy than whatever you’ve learnt in school or elsewhere, unless you’ve gone out of your way and taken a particular interest in linguistics or otherwise have good reason to believe your own idiolect is markedly non-standard in some relevant way.

And if your own intuition is confused and saying “Well, both ways seem alright, I guess, from the right perspective…”, then probably both ways are alright, with the right perspectives. Not every variation has proscribed branches.

It is most likely that a grammar nazi would insist that “A pair was…” is correct.

But then, it’s always interesting to make one’s characters non-typical in some way. I can imagine a grammar nazi type who has decided to take a minority (amongst grammar nazi types) view on this issue.

The important thing, then, would not be which is the correct usage, but rather, how well and entertainly grammar-nazi-ly this character can argue for his position.


Yup, if the character is a grammar nazi, “A pair is…” is correct.

I don’t personally care what people say provided I can understand them. But since this is GQ, (and new as I am, I get the general idea) I think this is the factual answer.

Yeah, if the character is a grammar Nazi, “a pair is…” seems the way to go, not because it’s more correct than the alternative but because grammar Nazis, in their often misguided uptight ways, would generally spout that it is more correct than the alternative. What I was saying above was just for keeping in mind for yourself, not necessarily for this particular character. (On some other points, though, it may be cute or useful or just plain accurate to, in your writing, take advantage of the fact that grammar Nazis don’t always think to follow all the contrived nonsense rules they very occasionally stop to preach about, slipping into ordinary usage conventions much of the time like everyone else)

If they slip they are sent to the concentration camps, so they can learn to concentrate better.

Oh dear, this is getting a little out of hand. The character isn’t about to defend their use of grammar. The situation doesn’t demand it.

It really was just a little thing that, while I wouldn’t mind either way, the character would use the correct word. Grammar nazi was a generalization. It was part of the character’s write up that they needed to do things right - using correct grammar is an extension of that rather than a personality quirk in its own right.

Rather than spending hours ++ on research (as I did with the Voltaire fan character - thanks Wikiquote!) I thought I’d get a quicker definitive answer here.

I’ve altered the text, printed the draft and moved on to the synopsis.

Thanks again everyone, I’m happy to let this drop, but do feel free to carry on if you wish.

In Soviet Union, threads drop YOU! – ersatz Yakov Smirnov

Duly noted, thank you.