Pants - Word of the Week

Definition: Pants

Noun (American/Australian/Canadian): Any clothing worn on the legs (over underwear) that has a separate section for each leg.

Noun (British English): Any kind of underwear worn on the legs

Slang meaning (British English): Un-cool, annoying or disappointing


"I had a dream that I forgot to put on pants before I went to school."

When I first came to London I had no idea that when the English say "pants", they don't mean a pair of jeans or work trousers.  Instead, they're talking about underwear.  Nobody told me this for a long time, and they let me keep on using the word "pants" when talking about what they called "trousers", because they thought it was funny.

If you grew up anywhere outside of the UK, and you watched American television, you would probably use the word "pants" for any clothing worn from the waist to the ankles that covers both legs separately. If you come to one of our English schools in England, you'll have to get used to saying "trousers" or "slacks", which are the accepted words.

So which one is right?

As with most differences between American and British English, there is no real "right" word. Just be sure to use "trousers" when in England, and "pants" when you're in America or Australia.  If you don't know which is correct, rather use the word "trousers".

Interesting fact: The word "pants" has no singular version (you can't talk about only one pant). The correct way to speak about pants is to say "a pair of pants" - the same as you'd talk about "a pair of scissors" or "a pair of binoculars".  This type of word is called a plurale tantum.


The word "pants" has a muddled history. According to one account, the word has its beginning in Saint Pantaleone, a Christian doctor in the 3rd century who wore trousers instead of togas (long robes), which were popular at the time.

"Pantaleone" slowly changed into the word "pantaloon", which is the full word for pants (though it is not used today).  Pantaloons were usually long, trouser-like garments worn by women (and later men) underneath dresses or robes.

Other sources say that the word "pants" comes from the Greek god Pan, who was always drawn with the legs of a goat, or wearing trousers instead of a toga.

Not sure whether you want to learn English in America or England?  Why not take a look at some of our English schools in America and England to help you decide?

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