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October 15th, 2003

Two pair or two pairs / adjectives after nouns / entitle or title

by Barbara Wallraff

Charles Pippin, of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, writes, “My mother has always told me that ‘pair’ is plural. Therefore, I say I have 15 ‘pair’ of shoes in the closet and own two ‘pair’ of reading glasses. But ‘Two pairs of shoes for the price of one’ appears in many shoe ads. Which is correct?”

Believe me, I go out of my way to side with mothers whenever I can. But it would be irresponsible of me to tell you that “pairs” is wrong. Of seven major contemporary American dictionaries, all give “pairs” as a plural—though five of them give “pair” as an alternative. I also checked a computer database of U.S. newspaper articles for “two pairs” and “two pair.” Each of 42 citations from a recent week read “two pairs” except one, from The Tampa Tribune, in an article about a local TV program with a home-redecoration theme: “The show is looking for three pairs of families—two pair in homes and one pair on boats.” Uh, “three pairs … two pair”? Not that the copy editors there asked me, but if they did, I’d suggest they pick one plural and stick with it. You did ask me. If I were you, I wouldn’t correct my mother, but I’d start saying “pairs.”

Jon Nigrine, of Flushing, Mich., writes, “A friend and I were discussing adjectives that come directly after the noun. In some situations adjectives can optionally go after the noun they modify, as in ‘a man alone.’ But we could think of only two adjectives that always do. Interestingly, they have similar meanings: ‘galore’ and ‘aplenty.’ We are wondering whether there are other such adjectives in English.”

Now that you have “postpositive” adjectives, as they’re called, on your mind, you’re bound to come across many of them—like the scavenger extraordinaire who finds something valuable on the sidewalk the instant he starts scanning it for treasure nearby. (Why, look—there were three in that sentence alone!) Adjectives that modify pronouns, rather than nouns, are ordinarily postpositive—as in, “Anyone curious should ask those responsible.” And it’s common for superlative adjectives, such as “biggest” and “strongest,” to be further modified by postpositive ones—as in “The silliest example possible may still be the best one available.”

Abbi Swanson, of Mount Vernon, Iowa, writes, “Please comment on the use of the word ‘entitled,’ which I believe is often used incorrectly and substituted for the word ‘titled’—for example, ‘The book is entitled ...’”

I don’t like to use “entitle” where it means the same thing as “title,” because it wastes a syllable and sounds stuffy besides. I can show you usage manuals that agree with me, but I have to admit, I can show you other respectable manuals—and dictionaries—that don’t. This one is a judgment call. You’re entitled to your opinion, I’m entitled to mine and I’m glad you and I agree. But shall we try not to think ill of people who tell us that books, too, are “entitled”?

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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