It is "pencil sharpener, can opener, ghost buster" but not "pencils sharpener, cans opener, ghosts buster" etc.

So it should be "clothpin" or "cloth pin" but not "clothespin" (which is also difficult to say).

All the more you don't usually pin more than one cloth with one pin.

Can somebody explain this singularity?

  • 13
    Cloth(s) is used to make clothes. The market for clothespins is people who hang clothes on lines to allow them to air dry. If the market had been textile manufacturers who needed fasteners to hang and dry freshly dyed cloth, they may have been called clothpins. For all I know there may be such a thing.
    – EllieK
    Nov 3, 2022 at 13:17
  • 4
    Bonjour OP, you are confusing toile/chiffon <=> vêtements. Note that in English, "cloth" (toile) is pronounced like moth, broth, auth, awe, saw, trawl, brawl etc. Clothes (chemises, pantalons, soutiens-gorge, culottes) is pronounced totally differently, like toes, goes, rows, shows, glows. Cordialement !
    – Fattie
    Nov 4, 2022 at 12:07
  • 1
    @Fattie the vowel in cloth and moth only sometimes matches that in awe and saw. If the OP is learning English from a source that uses RP or many other British accents your list will confuse them (see Cot-caught merger). OTOH the mention of "clothespin" as opposed to "clothes peg" implies at least some use of American sources.
    – Chris H
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:31
  • 2
    hi @ChrisH Sure, well noted, worthy comment for many coming here. but: the point for the OP was that cloth and clothes are pronounced totally differently. (Further, just IME, it's a common mistake for French folks to make when saying either cloth or clothes.) The arcane detail of how "cloth" is pronounced is outside my purview, of no value to this question, and I don't care about it :) The key issue for the OP is that "cloth" and "clothes" are completely different-sounding words.
    – Fattie
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:58
  • 2
    {Chris, note the title - OP literally thinks "clothes"-as-in-pin is literally the plural of "cloth". It's not and has no connection at all.}
    – Fattie
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:59

6 Answers 6


The plural of cloth is cloths, not clothes. One piece of clothing is not a "cloth". A cloth is one piece of fabric. So there's no paradox here, just different words that look alike (and share etymology).

In my experience, clothespin is not so difficult to say, because it's usually pronounced like "closepin".

  • 3
    Not only that, but "clothes" itself is often pronounced like "close," especially in faster speech. The tongue just doesn't make it into position for the approximate before the sibilant.
    – trlkly
    Nov 4, 2022 at 1:47
  • @trlkly /ð/ is not an approximant. Nov 4, 2022 at 15:27
  • 1
    @AzorAhai For some reason I wrote "approximant" when I meant "fricative."
    – trlkly
    Nov 4, 2022 at 15:30
  • 5
    @trlkly Except it should be clarified that "close" has two pronunciations, one for "not far", and the other for "make not open". It's the latter that is close to the pronunciation of "clothes". Nov 4, 2022 at 21:06

If the word were 'clothpin' it would appear to be a pin for cloth, rather than for a garment (or garments).

In British English, it's 'clothes peg'. So it has been 'clothes' from way, way, back.

It would seem sensible to assume that differentiation from cloth to garment(s) is why it uses the plural in the construction.

  • I think the difference between a clothes peg and a clothes pin is that the peg is just one solid piece of wood with a split down the middle, while the pin is two pieces of wood (or more recently plastic) held together with a spring. The single-piece pegs are increasingly less common (at least in the US), as the 2-piece ones are easier to mass-produce I believe. Nov 4, 2022 at 13:39
  • 2
    @DarrelHoffman Not in the UK, where a 'clothes peg' is the two pieces joined by a spring. A 'clothes pin' would be a sharp cylinder of metal used to hold fabric together while sewing (and you'd only really add 'clothes' in front to distinguish other kinds of pin). Nov 4, 2022 at 14:28
  • 2
    @Darrel In the US, IME, the solid form is a "clothespin", as also is the two-part form. Thre is no difference of term based on the form. Nov 4, 2022 at 14:42

You use a clothespin to hang your clothes out to dry.

"Clothes" are garments, the things you wear. Clothes are made of cloth. Cloth is the fabric you make garments from.


Something that hasn't been explicitly mentioned is that the word "clothes" is like the words "pants", "glasses", "binoculars", or "scissors" in that they are plural-only nouns. The plural of "cloth" is not "clothes" but "cloths". "Clothes" has no singular.

I think this partially explains why most compounds and attributive nouns use the singular form of the first word (even for semantically plural things, like "ten-foot pole"), but "clothespin" uses the plural form. However, it's more complicated than this because some of these plural-only nouns do get used in a singular form. Both "binocular case" and "binoculars case" are used. Comparison of scissors case and scissor case usage. Comparison of binoculars case and binocular case usage.

So for some plural-only words, both the singular and plural forms get used in attributive nouns. However, I think that "clothespin" is rather like "glasses case" in that using a singular form would be ambiguous. A "glass case" would be interpreted as a case made of glass (the material) or (less likely) a case for holding glass rather than a case for holding glasses. "Clothpin" has the same issue.

  • I guess you obtained the data and graphs from books.google.com/ngrams. I am convinced. Nov 9, 2022 at 0:34
  • @PierreALBARÈDE Yes, I obtained the data from Google ngrams. I really enjoy thinking about these sorts interesting details of English that we native speakers often don't notice. Nov 10, 2022 at 15:21

For the same reason that:

  • spaceship is right but space ship is wrong, yet
  • spacestation is wrong but space station is right.

English was made up as people went along, and words were assigned depending on what made sense at the time.

  • 3
    That's true, but the OP is asking a different question.
    – Fattie
    Nov 4, 2022 at 12:02
  • 2
    I think it's worth mentioning, though. There are so many things in most languages that are the way they are, 'just because'. It's helpful to remind learners that often there is no logic behind certain customary usages, even if a few people will tie themselves in knots trying to find some.
    – PRL75
    Nov 4, 2022 at 13:31

The English grammar rule (to my knowledge) is the "e" after the "th" in "clothes" makes the "o" make a long "o" sound ("oh") instead of the short "o" sound as in cloth. (The e after o changes the o's sound.)

The clothespin is usually used to hang your clothes, not to hang some cloths.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .