Word Choice – Couple and Pair

Jo’s question: “Can you please help me with the following sentences: ?The couple is/are here to see you. ?A couple has/have bought a lot of groceries. ?The pair of shoes are/is gone. ?Whose pair of shoes are/is this/these?”

BizWritingTip response: There are two questions here but both relate to subject and verb agreement. The guideline is that verbs must always agree in number with their subjects. In other words, if the subject is singular then the verb must be singular. The same is true if the subject is plural.

At first glance, the word “couple” would seem to be a collective noun. (A collective noun is a word that is singular in form but represents more than one person or thing.) Therefore, the correct way to write it would be to say “The couple is here to see you.”

However, “couple” is a word that also falls into the category of “it depends.” If you want to emphasize the two people as a unit, use a singular verb. If you want to emphasize their individuality, use a plural verb.

Examples (correct)

The couple are here to see you. (You are emphasizing two people.)

The couple has bought a lot of groceries. (You are emphasizing their unity.)

Therefore, with regard to the word “couple,” it is up to the writer to determine the emphasis desired and then use the appropriate verb.

Now let’s look at the word “pair.” It is considered a straight collective noun. Whenever it appears as the subject in a sentence, you must use a singular verb with it. (Always ignore any phrase following that begins with the word “of.”)

Examples (correct)

The pair of shoes is gone.

Whose pair of shoes is this?

If you had omitted the word “pair,” the sentence would be different.

Examples (correct)

The shoes are gone.

Whose shoes are these?