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When speaking of the article of clothing called "shorts", I know that it is incorrect to construct a sentence like this:

I wish to buy a shorts.

Instead, it should be constructed like this:

I wish to buy a pair of shorts.

Is this the only correct construction, or is there another way to express this?

  • 1
    This is a dual noun; not singular, not plural (though it takes plural agreement). Dual nominals describe things that come in two, like body parts and clothes for them, scissors, clippers, and other dualistic things. Some languages have special forms for the dual; in English we just have special dual words like shorts, gloves, mittens, suspenders, pants, trousers, socks, panties, shoes, couple, pair, and both. Some exist in the singular, like sock, shoe, and glove; most don't. – John Lawler Jul 8 '13 at 18:13
  • @JohnLawler That garments of the trews variety are, unlike those which clothe the extremities, exclusively plural is probably attributable to the infrequency of losing just one pant. – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 9 '13 at 22:25
  • But notice that the shorter the leg extension is, the less strong the duality is, until all one is left with is a topological duality -- two small holes and one larger one. That's why panty is so common in the same sense as panties for female trews -- should they be spelled "trouze", I wonder? I haven't looked it up, but I would guess that the use of singular panty in panty()hose has helped it along. In the US, at least, it seems impressionistically (with, admittedly, a small data set) to be about as common as the plural. – John Lawler Jul 13 '13 at 16:35
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I think the singular is the same for each of: socks, gloves, pants, shorts.

e.g.: a pair of socks, a pair of gloves, a pair of pants, a pair of shorts.

  • I would think I could buy some shorts too – mplungjan Jul 8 '13 at 7:58
  • In this usage, yes, but notice that you can talk about "a sock" or "a glove" in a way that you can not for "a short" or "a pant" (both of which are uses that have a very different, non-clothes-related meaning). – hunter2 Jul 8 '13 at 7:58
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    @mplungjan Yes, "some shorts" or "some pants" is OK, but is a vague, usually non-singular amount. – hunter2 Jul 8 '13 at 8:00
  • Supplementing @DanD's answer, in British English, the same as for "trousers": >*a pair of trousers*; some trousers. BrE trousers = AmE pants BrE pants = underpants – TrevorD Jul 8 '13 at 10:43
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    I believe certain upscale stores nowadays may talk of a pant... "Would Madam like to look at a pant to go with that blouse?" – GEdgar Jul 8 '13 at 13:21
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The term shorts referring to garments appears to be derived from the term short pants dating from the 1800s.

The use of the term in the plural appears to follow the usage of pants. While the word pant can be singular, it is most commonly found in the plural.

The word pants itself is derived from pantaloons, which is also most commonly found in plural form. The word pantaloons to signify a type of trousers is derived from a character in sixteenth century Italian Comedia dell' arte, the archetype of which was named Pantalone or Pantaleone who wore long, baggy trousers. How this came to be used in the plural seems obscure.

As a plural noun, shorts does not take a singlular article, such as a. It can be used with the, which can refer to singular or plural nouns. You can say

I want to buy the shorts (a particular pair)

I want to buy shorts (in general)

I want to buy some shorts (which may be one or more pair), or

I want to buy a pair of shorts

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