15

I heard in some movies "I lost my glasses" (eyeglasses), but if I insert this word into search, this return some jars, bottles.

Is it wrong?

In a conversation I must use "eyeglasses", or "glasses" is enough? There is a difference between American and British English?

"I want to buy glasses."

or

"I want to buy eyeglasses."

  • @δοῦλος It's definitely 'fine', in the sense that people will get your meaning, but it will probably reinforce the perception that you're not familiar with the language, as most native speakers use the shortened 'glasses'. – DCShannon Feb 2 '15 at 23:42
  • 1
    @δοῦλος Agreed on all points. Any readers should be aware that using 'eyeglasses' rather than 'glasses' will be yet another awkward aspect of their speech, that's all I'm saying. I felt your first comment might be misleading in that aspect, especially with an upvote, but we're all clear now. – DCShannon Feb 3 '15 at 0:19
  • I am judging from the nature of your posts and from decades of experience in teaching/tutoring English that it is fine if you use eyeglasses whenever you are referring to the object that corrects poor vision until you are at a level in which you find it more comfortable and natural to switch between the two words. – user6951 Feb 3 '15 at 0:32
  • Related: Eyeglasses, spectacles, goggles, glasses on ELU. – Andrew Leach Feb 3 '15 at 17:13
21

The word "glasses" has several meanings. Among them are both eyeglasses and drinking glasses.

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

2 a : something made of glass: as : tumbler; also : glassware

2 c plural : a device used to correct defects of vision or to protect the eyes that consists typically of a pair of glass or plastic lenses and the frame by which they are held in place — called also eyeglasses, spectacles

Usually, the correct meaning is clear from the context.

I can't read these tiny letters. Let me get my glasses.

We assume the speaker means eyeglasses, because you don't use drinking glasses to read.

Would you like some water? There are glasses in the kitchen.

We assume the speaker means drinking glasses, because you don't use eyeglasses to drink.

Sometimes the meaning is unclear from the context, and then we may have to ask for details:

I have to go buy new glasses today.
Do you mean for reading or for drinking?

| improve this answer | |
23

I'm an American speaker, but I'm not aware of any difference in American and British usage here. (See these Google ngrams for "glasses" vs. "eyeglasses": American, British.)

Generally, "eyeglasses" is uncommon (according to the above ngram links, and my personal experience) but will be understood perfectly. I would expect to see "eyeglasses" used when you need to differentiate between an ambiguous use of "glasses" (which can also mean "drinking cups, made of glass"):

"Have you seen my glasses?"

"Yes, I just filled them up with water." (This person assumes "glasses" here means "cups")

"No, I mean my eyeglasses!"

In fact, there is an old joke:

My grandmother is 90 years old, and she doesn't need glasses! She drinks right from the bottle.

The first sentence suggests "glasses" means "eyeglasses" (since eyesight degrades with age) and the second sentence reveals that "glasses" actually means "drinking glasses" (since she drinks from the bottle instead of pouring her drink into a glass).

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    +1 for pointing out that 'eyeglasses' is mostly used for disambiguation – DCShannon Feb 2 '15 at 23:39
  • 1
    In the ngrams graphs, the British English frequency of "eyeglasses" is several times lower than the US frequency, which is in agreement with my experience that "eyeglasses" is extremely rare in the UK. – psmears Feb 3 '15 at 19:30
6

Of course eyeglasses is unambiguous as compared to glasses as other answers say, but I don't think it is that common when ambiguity becomes an issue. I think the main difference is that eyeglasses is somewhat archaic/formal and glasses is the usual term today. Words tend to be trimmed over time. Other examples of this kind are the archaic motorcar versus the modern car or aeroplane/airplane versus plane; here too, the former ones in the pairs are unambiguous, but they do not need to be used to for disambiguation.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    No one at all says "motorcar" or "aeroplane". The word "airplane" makes me think of teaching a child objects like "car" and "ball" and "airplane". An adult would not use the phrase "airplane" (or the word "eyeglasses" for that matter, other than in formal speech or an advertisement perhaps). – taz Feb 3 '15 at 19:13
  • 2
    I completely disagree that "airplane" is that rare. – shawnt00 Feb 4 '15 at 5:28
  • 1
    I agree with @shawnt00's disagreement. 'Airplane' and the less lazy 'aeroplane' are common enough - in Australia at least - that their use wouldn't be seen as odd. – mcalex Feb 4 '15 at 5:55
  • 1
    @J.R. I agree that it's very natural to shorten it to just "plane." The original comment said something like taz had never heard it said that way. I thought that claim was worth noting a minor objection. – shawnt00 Feb 4 '15 at 17:33
  • 1
    I think that particular phrase is a bit fossilized so maybe that's why it would sound odd. In more general use I think it's fairly interchangeable and would not flag you as an ESL. – shawnt00 Feb 5 '15 at 17:48
3

In the UK at least, if you want to avoid ambiguity, you would say "spectacles", or, more likely in speech but very unlikely in formal writing, the slangy "specs".

In order of formality awkwardness to a UK speaker, most-uncomfortable-first, I'd put them roughly:

  • Pince-nez
  • Eyeglasses
  • Monocle
  • Spectacles
  • Glasses
  • Specs

apsiller's suggestion of viewing n-grams is valuable here, since it shows the relative frequency of the words between US and UK, but in the UK at least, it feels to me like "specs" is under-represented because it's slang, and they're analyzing books, not speech. But it could be that it's only a regional slang: American, British

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Specs gave me right images! Your list seems like a old-fashioned to 'modern' (looking for images). Monocle is only used as one lens specs right? – sumitani Feb 3 '15 at 12:34
  • 1
    Right. 'Eyeglasses' is an uncomfortable word here in the UK. It could seem antiquated or American or both. "Glasses" or (verbally) "specs" is normal usage. – A E Feb 3 '15 at 12:42
  • 2
    Pince-nez and monocle refer to specific types, though. – Random832 Feb 3 '15 at 16:42
  • 1
    If you said "spectacles" in the USA you would sound archaic or comedically British. "Specs" would not be understood in this context. – taz Feb 3 '15 at 19:15
  • 2
    @sumitani - Just because specs gives the right images doesn't mean specs is the best word. If you told me, "I need to get new specs today," I'd wonder if you were some kind of designer, on your way to get some new specifications. – J.R. Feb 4 '15 at 10:20
2

It is really about context:

Put on your glasses.

You would not think about putting on drinking glasses, but eyeglasses, here.

I can't find my glasses.

Usually a person will say the instead of my, when referring to drinking glasses, but this still could depend on what the person was last doing. Were they searching for something to pour themselves a drink into? Did they last say they were thirsty? Were they looking for drinking glasses that are special and specifically owned by them? If no to those questions, they probably mean eyeglasses, and most of the time, that is what an English-speaker is referring to. That is why we will probably say more often:

Where are the cups?

instead, and most of the time the person says glasses, especially if they wear them, they mean eyeglasses.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.