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For a pair of rabbits there is:

一对兔 yī duì tù

And for a pair of shoes there is:

一双鞋 yī shuāng xié

And for twins there is:

双胞胎 shuāngbāotāi

How can I be sure when to use 对 and when to use 双?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

From "Chinese: A Comprehensive Grammar" (Routledge):

一对夫妇 "a married couple"
一对枕头 "a pair of pillows"
一对耳环 "a pair of ear-rings"

一双手 "a pair of hands"
一双眼睛 "a pair of eyes"
两双鞋 "two pairs of shoes"
三双袜子 "three pairs of socks"

The difference between 对 and 双 seems to be that the former emphasizes complementarity while the latter indicates functioning together.

(Anecdotally, it's been my experience that, due to influence from Cantonese, 对 is much more common in the south even when 双 would be "correct.")

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That's a super helpful answer - I was always curious behind the reasoning, and that makes a lot of sense. Thanks! – Ciaocibai Jan 10 '12 at 7:50

when 双 is used, it usually means the thing is born/created/made that way.

when 对 is used, it usually means one match the other in some way.

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maybe this'll help choose which to use: (i don't know how universal the rule below will work but it works for the examples in this page so far. my logic is to look for the singular of the pair when just the pair is confusing)

  • if one out of the pair can be prefixed w/ 只, then use 对
  • if one out of the pair can be prefixed w/ 个, then use 双
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双 means pair in the sense of "alike."

对 means "pair" in the sense of "go together. Two rabbits make a good pair, but they're not "alike. (Unless they're twins.)

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