Which one is more grammatically correct: "three pairs of shoes" or "three pair of shoes"?

  • In 1800, "three pair" would have been correct. Today, "three pairs" is correct. See Google Ngrams. – Peter Shor Sep 5 '13 at 16:01
  • I think the pair form for plural is still often used when playing cards. – user17580 Feb 19 '15 at 13:29

It depends on who you ask. From the Columbia Guide to Standard American English by K.G. Wilson:

Some commentators object to locutions such as three pair of shoes, arguing that the modifying number should force pair to be pairs. But at least in most Conversational and Informal use, three pair and four pair are appropriate.

Ngrams show that both are in use, although three pairs is heavily favored. To me, three pair of shoes has an old-fashioned ring to it, but I wouldn't correct you if you said it.

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    +1, but I think for someone learning English, they should just stick with "three pairs". "Three pair" is not suitable for everyday normal use. – Matt Sep 5 '13 at 19:50
  • I agree. However, I think it's worth explaining here nonetheless. The O.P. didn't ask "Which one should I use?" but rather "Which is correct?" If we say that one of them is wrong, then what does that do to our credibility when a non-native encounters the lesser-used form? – J.R. Sep 5 '13 at 20:22
  • Brilliant answer! +1. I agree with you both :) And I think the last paragraph of the answer is more than sufficient to point non-native speakers toward using the more common form :) – WendiKidd Sep 5 '13 at 20:29
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    I also suspect this could be very regional. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are some parts of the U.S. where "three pair of pants" sounds decidedly off, yet that wording may sound quite normal in others. – J.R. Sep 5 '13 at 20:57
  • I grew up in the US Midwest and later lived in the US South for a time, and "three pair" is very commonly used in both regions. It has a distinctly unsophisticated sound to my ear. I would stick to "three pairs" unless you have a good reason to do otherwise. – Jason Patterson Feb 19 '15 at 19:00

As you're describing more than one pair of shoes, you should use the plural form of the noun:

Three pairs of shoes.

Though it's worth noting that if you're describing one pair, this would be correct:

One pair of shoes.

As even though there are multiple shoes involved, there's still just a singular pair.

Some nouns have the same form in both the singular and the plural though. This is something you'll need to learn as you come across the particular words.

Why have one sheep when you can have three sheep?

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