The Grammarphobia Blog

Clothes vs. clothing

Q: Would you mind clarifying the difference between “clothes” and “clothing”? My friend and I disagree. I frequently use “clothing” in a sentence like “Don’t forget to pack some clothing for the trip.” He finds that “clothing” is inappropriate in this sense and should be “clothes.” I almost never use “clothes” – probably because I’m from New Jersey and I find it hard to pronounce.

A: My husband uses “clothing” as you do, while I normally say “clothes.” I think they’re pretty much interchangeable these days, and you’re not necessarily incorrect whichever you choose. But typically “clothes” is used to refer to specific items while “clothing” refers to garments in general.

I’d say “I packed my clothes,” or “She’s wearing her new clothes,” but “Your clothing should always be appropriate.” My husband, on the other hand, would say “clothing” for all three. That’s just his habit.

As far as how to say “clothes,” it may be easier than you think. The pronunciation listed first in most dictionaries sounds something like “close.” I don’t know many people who actually pronounce the “th” sound. Here’s the “clothes” entry from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, with an audio pronouncing guide.