The Grammarphobia Blog

What’s the singular of “scissors”?

Q: We’re having a heated debate in the Teachers’ Lounge regarding the word “scissors.” I offered someone a scissor and got lambasted! Was I incorrect? I was told it’s always “scissors.”

A: I’m sorry, but “scissors” is an invariable noun that exists only in the plural. There’s no noun “scissor,” though there’s a verb “scissor” that means to trim with scissors. An invariable noun has only one form (that is, in the sense of singular vs. plural). There are three kinds:

1) Nouns that exist in the singular sense only (these are often the names of subjects, diseases, or games that look plural): mumps, measles, billiards, physics, mathematics, music, homework, rain, snow, and others. These nouns generally take singular verbs.

2) Nouns that exist in the plural sense only (these are often the names of things that have two parts): scissors, trousers, jeans, vermin, spectacles (that is, eyeglasses), livestock, folk, thanks, outskirts, congratulations, alms, amends, and so on. These nouns take plural verbs.

3) Nouns that exist in only one form but may be either singular or plural: fish, sheep, aircraft, species, series, headquarters, etc. They can take either singular or plural verbs, depending on your meaning.

I hope this helps.

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.