In comments on dasblinkenlight's answer to the question

"У меня оба часов/обеи часы/обои часы сломались"?

some write that две пары часов means 2 watches and три пары часов means 3 watches, while others write that these terms mean 4 watches and 6 watches. I'm not sure if the context of "watches" is the source of the conflict here, on account of часы having a plural appearance while referring to a single physical object. (Let's not take часы to mean "hours" for this question!)

  1. To clear up the situation, if that is possible, I'd like to know if native speakers who think две пары часов means 2 watches also think две пары книг and три пары книг mean 2 books and 3 books, rather than 4 books and 6 books. (I have in mind, of course, that each book is counted just one time.)

  2. If you think the meaning is 2 books and 3 books, then what do you think the purpose of the word пара is in those phrases, since две книги and три книги also mean 2 books and 3 books?

(Remark: This argument about whether две пары means 2 or 4 and три пары means 3 or 6 reminds me of the conflict in mathematics over whether the notation Dn for dihedral groups means a group of order n or 2n; some mathematicians interpret it one way and some interpret it the other way, but somehow they manage to get along. :))

6 Answers 6


From my own experience, "две пары часов" always means "two watches", and "три пары часов" always means "three watches". It is hard to imagine a "use case" where two separate watches would be paired.

"Two watches" has to be translated as either "двое часов" or "две пары часов". In the question you've linked to there is a huge debate over which of these two forms is correct, which I found very surprising. Both forms are used, and there are examples from literature that use "две пары часов" meaning "two watches", which is good enough for me.

Furthermore, "двое часов" and "трое часов" sounds fine, but "четверо часов" sounds wrong. So if you have a display case with more than three watches, I would not know how to express that without using the word "пара", meaning a single watch.

  • What is the reason пара is used to count watches anyway? To me, пара means "pair", and I don't see why a word that means pair should be used.
    – KCd
    Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 11:34
  • @KCd: I would guess that it is simply following the same pattern as other nouns which have no singular form, like брюки, ножницы, or очки, which all happen to be "pairs".
    – Dima
    Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 13:27
  • That's a reasonable possibility, although unlike брюки, очки, и т.д. there's nothing "paired" about a watch.
    – KCd
    Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 14:46
  • 2
    "So if you have a display case with more than three watches, I would not know how to express that without using the word "пара", meaning a single watch." The other alternative is to use the word "штука", which is the formally correct way of saying it: "В витрине было пять штук часов, и один будильник." The word "пара" applied to "часы" is considered a colloquialism. Commented Sep 3, 2013 at 2:00

«n пар книг» means “n pairs of books”. The total number of books is 2n (since usually it is assumed that pairs are disjoint). Similarly, if you have «n пар предметов», you have 2n «предметов» in total. That being said, we talk about pairs of objects only if objects are divided into pairs in some logical way, like

Я купил две пары ботинок. [т.е. 4 ботинка]

Ко мне в гости пришли 3 (супружеские) пары. [всего было 6 человек]

В показательной программе выступили 5 пар (фигуристов). [выступили 10 спортсменов]

If you have 2n books, you will not say «у меня есть n пар книг». That would sound very weird.

Only when you use a noun that doesn't have a singular form «n пар» means that you have n objects.

 Он купил две пары штанов. = He bought two pairs of pants.  [He bought two items of clothing.]
  • Do you see a difference between две пары часов and две часов?
    – KCd
    Commented Aug 31, 2013 at 19:52
  • I edited my question to address your remark about pairs being disjoint, which is what I intended.
    – KCd
    Commented Aug 31, 2013 at 19:54
  • 1
    @KCd: "две часов" is grammatically incorrect. You can say "два часа", but that would mean "two hours", not "two watches".
    – Dima
    Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 2:54
  • 1
    @KCd: the word «часы» doesn't have a singular form; thus “две пары часов” means two watches (see my last paragraph). (However, I think that the sentence “пара часов” is very rarely used.)
    – Yury
    Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 5:19
  • 2
    Never use "n пар часов". It sounds very rustic. Use "одни часы", "двое часов", "трое часов", etc or add word "штука", i.e. "пять штук часов", instead. Commented Sep 1, 2013 at 5:46

В словосочетании "пара часов" слово "пара" значит всего лишь "комплект", "экземпляр". Просто, видимо, не нашлось в своё время для обозначения изделия "часы" во множественном числе более подходящего слова. Да и стрелок на них обычно две. В общем, "две пары часов" — это "two watches".


From the numerical point of view пара by itself may mean:

  • one object: пара ножниц, пара щипцов, пара брюк;
  • two objects: пара яблок, пара апельсинов;
  • one set of objects: пара весел, пара перчаток, пара носок, пара платья (outdated nowadays, used to mean "сюртук, брюки и жилет", see here), кофейная пара (чашка и блюдце для кофе), пара чаю (порция чаю в двух чайниках для воды и для заварки чая);
  • two humans or animals acting together: пара лошадей, пара танцоров, пара боксеров;
  • small amount: на пару слов, на пару минут, пожить пару дней, виделись пару раз, подкинь пару монет.

According to a joke the "small amount" may mean even 5 objects:

– Сбегай в магазин, возьми пару бутылок водки.
– "Пару" – это сколько?
– "Пару" – это пять!

Now, back to две пары. Though mathematically it can be treated as a simple multiplication, though in language such saying has multiple additional aspects.

Let's use десять or десяток instead of два to highlight the difference. While Then десять пар means:

  • Пара as one object. In our first example math works. In this case десять пар means exactly ten times more objects than before (ten objects): десять пар ножниц, десять пар щипцов, десять пар брюк.

  • Пара as two objects. In this case math works as well, but semantically it is implied that the objects are calculated by pairs for some reason (because of packaging, or because price is set for pair): десять пар яблок equals 20 apples, десять пар апельсинов equals 20 oranges.

  • Пара as set of objects. Here math works differently:

    • Она перемеряла десять пар туфель - you cannot just multiply two by ten here. Though 20 shoes were used 10 of them are left ones and another 10 of them are right ones. You cannot take one shoe from first pair and combine it with another shoe from another pair easily.
    • Десять пар перчаток - same as above - 20 objects, but left/right glove are different.
    • У меня десять пар одинаковых черных носок - Maybe the only example when you can say that you have 20 socks, because usually there is no practical difference between 'right' and 'left' ones.
    • В гардеробе висят десять пар платья - in this example mathematically you have 30 objects, but they cannot be treated as equal.
  • Пара as two humans or animals acting together - though you can abstractly say "20 humans" or "20 animals", but in fact it is another example of "пара as set". When something is done together, in most cases these pairs are matching each other by some criterion (horses should be of equal sizes and strength, boxers should be in same weight category; dancing pair may or may not require one man and one woman, etc.). So in most cases you cannot mix the pair members.

  • Пара as small amount - you cannot use пара as small amount meaning in десять пар минут expression. Here it will mean пара as grouping by two for counting, so десять пар минут means 20 minutes.

Back to две пары часов. Here the word пара can mean one, two or set. The word часы may mean clock or wrist/pocket watch or hours.

In case of hours две пары часов sounds quite weird by itself, because usually пара часов is used, which means a couple of hours, but две пары часов will have the meaning four hours, grouped by two hours for some reason (note that in universities пара stands for two academic hours - a study session in an educational institution consisting of two 45-minute periods).

In case of clock пара means exactly two clocks, so the meaning here is:

Four clocks, that were grouped by two either for ease of counting, or because they form a set by their form, color, price, etc.

Though since for watches the result is quite different one would likely add "настенных" to disambiguate clocks and watches (две пары настенных часов).

In case of wrist/pocket watch пара may mean:

  • Two watches (wrist or pocket ones) that are weared by a person. This is a colloquialism - most books on Literature Russian discourage usage пара in this meaning. As stated by Rosenthal: "Выражение «пара часов» имеет просторечный характер". However, this expression follows a pattern for many other clothing items - пара очков, пара брюк, пара носок, пара перчаток, etc., so it does not sound weird for a person that have never heard such expression before. Anton Zuev listed a numerous examples of such sayings. One example from ruscorpora.ru dates back to 1874:

    Пришедшие под вечерок армяне «поддержали коммерцию», купив пару часов и несколько мелочей из сданных мною вещей, как то: цепочки нового золота, коробку слабителъных порошков, перочинные ножики, карандаши и т. под. [П. И. Огородников. Очерки Персии. Калейдоскоп шахруда. Персидское побережье Каспия. Перевал через Кузлук (1874)]

    It is interesting to note that in this citation the pocket watches are described. According to Wikipedia wrist watches become popular after World War I, because pocket watches were impractical on the battlefield. Before that time men, who carried pocket watches, were quoted as saying they would "sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch" (note this idea of "watch as a piece of cloth" connotation, though the citation itself is not russian of course).

  • Four watches, grouped by two for counting (see "clocks" example). I beleive that this is the only meaning that Literature Russian allowes. So, such phrase can only be used in a context where these watches are counted (in a shop, in a document, etc.). But since alternative meaning exists that has a very long usage history, I believe that you have a very low chanses of seing such expression in literature, because most editors will rephrase it to avoid ambiguity.

So, as a bottom line, две пары часов, where часы means watches (and not clocks or hours) will always mean two watches.


Носители русского языка никогда не говорят "две пары часов". Если вы хотите купить, например, 2 часов, вы скажете "двое часов". Proof - http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/es/107622/%D0%B4%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B5 . "Две пары часов" можно сказать в редких случаях, когда вам нужно двое часов одной модели и двое другой. То есть, 2+2 = 4 (четверо) часов. Слово "пара" в данном смысле может применяться к парным предметам: пара брюк, пара носков, пара перчаток, пара обуви и т.п. Но часы, очки, ножницы, грабли, вилы, и т.п. словом "пара" не называются. То есть, слово "пара" для них будет означать 2 штуки.

  • Никогда не говорите никогда. «Две пары часов» все ееможно услышать, хотя и довольно редко.
    – J-mster
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 12:22

Honestly I (as a native speaker) never heard of people saying "пара" with meaning of one object although internet states that it is a simplification in casual language (how is that a simplification if it is completly illogical?). I would not recommend you to use "пара" in meaning of one object - just try to avoid that with something else. P.S. Although after looking in internet for this question - it seems debatable from the formal point of view.

  • "Я чувствовал ― сказать ей, что резиновая женщина вполне может обойтись одной парой кружевных трусиков, было бы роковой ошибкой: пороговые триггеры немедленно перебросили бы ее из зыбкой позиции сострадания к конфронтационным сценариям максимального сучества." [Виктор Пелевин. S.N.U.F.F (2011)]
    – Artemix
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 15:36
  • Пара трусов, пара очков, пара брюк, пара шорт, пара часов...
    – Metaphor
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 21:01

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