Is it correct to ask about nouns that are always plural and denote things that physically consist of two parts (scissors, trousers, binoculars) like this:

What are these?

I'd say that such a question is acceptable if the speaker wants to emphasize the fact of comprising two parts, not one.


1 Answer 1


Short answer: Yes.

If, say, I wanted to know who owned a particular pair of scissors, I might point to them or hold them up and say, "Whose are these?" I wouldn't say "Whose is this?" because scissors is plural.

To be pedantic, "What are these?" is more problematic. If I don't know what the object is, I may not know that it is conventionally referred to in the plural even though there only appears to be one thing there.

  • 1
    Then again, "What is this? This is a pair of scissors.", if you thought of them that way.
    – user3169
    Dec 15, 2017 at 0:38
  • @user3169 Fair enough. I suppose in general a plural can be "converted" into a singular by using a group noun. Like, "Whose pencils are these?" versus "Whose box of pencils is this?"
    – Jay
    Dec 20, 2017 at 14:06

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