I never saw this word "shears", but I found it on the internet and I went to search the meaning of that. Well, if scissors and shears have the same meaning. Let me know how to use each one.

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    I would call the tool you use in one hand scissors and the two-handed garden implement shears. However, I believe that technically any device with two opposing blades is a pair of shears, and some one-handed ones are called shears by specialists, e.g. a dressmaker's pinking shears. Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 12:43
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    Similarly there is a type of small garden tool made from a single piece of bent metal and operated with one hand, called "edging shears". Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 13:04
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    There might be a technical distinction, but for broad usage, "scissors" is the more widely used term. "Shears" tends to be used for more specific kind of scissors, within certain hobbies/professions.
    – BradC
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 16:04
  • pinking shears have saw-toothed blades, and are a specialty sewing tool.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 21:30

5 Answers 5


The technical distinctions the other answers are giving might be true, but for the purpose of an English language learner, I think the most important distinction is that scissors is a very widely used term, and shears is a more specific, more technical term.

You're also more likely to hear "shears" with a clarifying adjective, like "pinking shears" or "trauma shears".

In other words, most people are going to call anything with two pivoting blades "scissors", it is only within certain professions/hobbies (hair styling, sewing, crafting), that they bother to distinguish between different types of scissors, shears, or snips.

In sewing, for example, you might have specialized scissors like crafting scissors, pinking shears, embroidery snips, dress-making shears, or tailor's scissors.

  • dressmaking scissors, usually.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 21:13
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    The scissors I use in the kitchen, I've heard called "Kitchen Shears". They are fairly heavy, enough to cut through chicken to get the backbone out.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 22:11
  • Yes, this answer is very good, but I think kitchen shears is the one exception that should be added, since it is reasonably common. For example, I've never heard the term "kitchen scissors" used instead. Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 20:46

Scissors and shears are essentially the same type of object - that of two sharp opposing blades with some sort of hinge mechanism.

Scissors usually(1) refer to the hand held size implements of this type, with a hole on each handle - one for the thumb one for the finger(s).

It's important to note that the holes are not necessarily the same size or shape. This depends on the ergonomic design of the scissors.

You can get left hand and right handed scissors where the blades are arranged so that you can see the surface of what you are cutting on top of the 'inner' cutting edge. (sometimes also with grooved holes to make holding them more comfortable)

enter image description here

Usually (there are probably exceptions the holes are for thumb and one finger (eg for nail scissors), others can have a thumb hold and a longer loop for all four fingers opposite (paper scissors), and some have long loops on both handles so they can be operated either way round.

Shears usually(1) refer to larger specimens of these implements, but without the thumb/finger holes

enter image description here

You would grip each handle with a whole hand

Not a hard and fast rule!

There are obviously some exceptions here - particular sheep shears, which are hand held (among many other examples)

enter image description here

Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably - particularly I've heard kitchen scissors also being called kitchen shears

Also note: I am quoting a UK dictionary, so there is probably some variation in location here too.

Edit: Although I have just had a thought that maybe it's the cutting angle? Scissors cut through something (paper, card, the end/middle of hair, Shears to cut something perpendicular to a surface (so to cut wool away from a sheep's skin, to shear your hair close to your head)?

(1) At least here in the UK this seems to be the case - mileage may vary

  • Yes,this is the general notion and I have supplied pictures for this answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 21:37
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    The disambiguation page you've linked to for "shears" calls most shears there "scissors". The article on scissors says: "Hair-cutting shears and kitchen shears are functionally equivalent to scissors, but the larger implements tend to be called shears" (emphasis mine). So it appears to be that scissors are generally smaller and cut through thinner material than shears.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 1:09
  • "some sort of hinge mechanism" - that's the difference. Snips: both blades provide a 'die' against with which to cut. Shears: one of the 'blades' is a die (because real 'shears' imo have a spring hinge handle, as opposed to hinge pin in the middle. Or like in garden tools: one blade and one die. Ergonomics will soon teach you that to use a shear you bring the blade down to the die; that's shearing). Scissors: both blades cut.
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 22:00
  • To add to the confusion, giant two-handed scissor for cutting grass in places a lawnmower won't get to (30-40cm blade length) are always called shears. I have a smaller one handed version called "one-handed edging shears"
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 18:23
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    The distinction between left- and right-handed scissors is nothing to do with the shape of the holes, or whether the holes are grooved. It's to do with which blade is on top at the pivot point. If you try to use right-handed scissors with your left hand (or vice versa), the pressure of your hand tends to push the two blades apart, whereas you want to push them together. Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 22:46


shear noun Definition of shear (Entry 2 of 2) 1a(1): a cutting implement similar or identical to a pair of scissors but typically larger —usually used in plural (2): one blade of a pair of shears b: any of various cutting tools or machines operating by the action of opposed cutting edges of metal —usually used in plural

Please see the pictures below.

In non-technical terms, shears are usually for cutting hedges or bushes or plants and require two hands when used and they look like this:

enter image description here

And scissors are like this and are used with one hand:

wikipedia picture

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    All English speakers will confirm this. I am merely giving basic, everyday usage here. There, are specialized shears, of course, like sheep shears, too. I posted my answer to show the difference clearly. And not details like some scissors are called shears. My answer tallies with Smock's answer.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 21:12
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    @nick012000 I guess you don't have or have not spent any time in a garden. shears for a garden are not "specialized" at all.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 16:48
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    Lambie, please don't speak on behalf of "all English speakers". I speak English and I do not confirm your answer at all. For me, "shears" would most commonly be pinking shears or kitchen shears, both of which I would use with one hand. I would refer to the garden tool in your photo as "clippers" or possibly "loppers", but not "shears". Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 20:46
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    And I suspect that when you say "most native English speakers", you actually mean just those who live in your area. And for what it's worth, I (like my grandson) have lived in the suburbs my entire life. So guess again. Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 20:53
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    All I'm asking is that you don't presume to speak on behalf of "all English speakers". Or even "all native English speakers", or "all English speakers from USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand". You do not represent us all. Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 21:00

"Scissors" is more likely used when the blades are long compared to the handles, and are used to cut through thin things, like paper. (Long blades relative to handle mean more cutting distance.)

"Shears" is more likely used when the handles are long compared to the blades, and are used to cut through thicker things, like cardboard or branches. (Short blades relative to handle mean more cutting force.)

  • shears are used to cut through cardboard??
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 17:12
  • Although nail scissors have short blades compared to the handles.
    – Smock
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 13:50

If I were explaining the difference between scissors and shears to someone who was oblivious to the concept at all, I would say all scissors are shears but not all shears are scissors.

Let me elaborate, physical scissors and the word scissors is a less precise, less complicated version of shears, even in the most novice of cutting experienced persons. Now, shears are any two sharpened objects and smoothed on contacting sides, that ultimately cut something using some sort of pressure for example, physiologic, electrical, hydraulic, etc. Usually cutting things such as: cloth, plastic, metal, wood, etc.

In addition, most pivoting shears(scissors) are self sharpening(so please don't try to sharpen scissors or shears, unless you are a trained professional). Whereas hydraulic and pneumatic shears must be sharpened and/or replaced quite often if they are shearing hard materials with acute accuracy, like metal.

The best example of my premise would be used in a vernacular:

The cliff was a shear drop all the way to the bottom.

The shear encounter with the burglar left her traumatized.

The new cloth that the seamstress ordered wasn't even shear to the touch, so she immediately sent it back.

In laymen terms scissors are a specific type of shears. Whereas shears have many terminological variations for its meaning, i.e. precise, close, accurate, acute, etc.

I hope this summarizes what I believe everyone is trying to say in each response, only in tidbits. I hope this puts it together in a more understandable way. I welcome all questions, comments and criticism (positive or negative), just be respectful.

  • Welcome and thanks for contributing, and for being open to critique. There's a lot of information here. I would suggest organizing it in a way that helps the learner understand by separating it into logical paragraphs, formatting your examples and using informative headings. You can browse the site and find answers with high scores to see what the community expects and appreciates.
    – dwilli
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 6:18
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    I agree with dwilli that you should organize this into paragraphs. Additionally, you have a few errors in this answer--you've confused "shear" with "sheer" in a few cases.
    – Katy
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 6:59
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    None of your vernacular examples are correct. Cliffs have "sheer drops" not "shear drops." Clothing is "sheer," not "shear" and this is a visible quality, not a tactile one. Neither a "shear encounter" nor a "sheer encounter" is idiomatic.
    – Katy
    Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 3:10
  • Neither scissors nor shears are "self-sharpening", and with proper tools anyone can sharpen a pair of scissors safely and effectively. Here is one example - others can easily be found. Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 19:08
  • Ah, but what about a "sheer hulk"? :-) (It's an archaic shipbuilding term. It does not mean "a completely wrecked vessel" - instead, it means "a vessel equipped with sheers (a type of crane) used to install the lower masts into vessels under construction"). Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 19:14

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