Scarfs or Scarves: What’s the Difference?

Some people prefer colder weather because it gives them a reason to choose outfits that contain interesting coordinates and accessories. It can be fashionable to wrap a length of fabric around your neck or drape it across the shoulders of your coat. In the summer heat, however, dressing this way is impractical.

Most people would rather spend time thinking about how these lengths of fabric look than what to call them. If you choose to wear more than one, should they be of different lengths and contrasting colors? Are they scarfs or scarves?

What is the Difference Between Scarfs or Scarves?

In this article, I will compare scarfs vs. scarves. I will use them in a sentence and let you know when to use which word. Then, at the end, I will explain a useful memory trick to help you decide whether to use scarves or scarfs in your writing.

When to Use Scarfs

Definition of reoccur definition and definition of recur definitionWhat does scarfs mean? Scarfs is a plural noun referring to more than one length of fabric worn around the neck or head. Scarfs is the older of the two forms, though it has fallen from prominence since the 20th century.

Still, see the examples below.

  • I used the leftover fabric to make three scarfs for my three friends.
  • The women walked down the street with scarfs on their heads.

Scarfs is also a verb. It is typically used in the phrasal verb scarf down, which means to eat quickly or stuff food into one’s face. You can see the example below for a way to use scarfs as a verb.

  • Heather scarfs down her goulash too fast to enjoy it.
  • When McDonald’s debuted its all-day breakfast menu last fall, customers hit up the chain in droves, lured by the simple novelty of being able to scarf down an Egg McMuffin after the once-ironclad 10:30 a.m. cutoff time. –The Washington Post

When to Use Scarves

What does scarves mean? Scarves is another form of the same plural noun: scarf. Even though scarfs is the original variant, scarves is more than eight times as common in modern print sources, according to Garner’s Modern American Usage.

If you look at the below chart that graphs scarfs vs. scarves, you can see how much more common scarves is than scarfs—and this chart doesn’t even separate the noun-verb differences in usage, so the actual difference between the two is likely larger than the graph shows.

scarfs versus scarves

You can use it the same way you would you would use scarfs as a noun.

For example,

  • My friends were happy to receive the scarves I made for them.
  • As the winter wind blew through the streets, people wrapped scarves around their necks to keep warm.
  • More high-end scarves and handbags are sold online than might be expected considering their expense, the prevalence of fakes and the vast sums their designers have put into flagship stores. –The Wall Street Journal

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define reoccur and define recurHere is a helpful trick to remember scarves vs. scarfs.

Scarves is never a verb. If you’re searching for a verb, then scarfs is the word you should choose.

As a noun, however, neither scarfs nor scarves is technically incorrect. At this point in time, scarves is more widely used, and will likely seem more natural to your readers. Historically speaking, scarfs had been preferred until the 20th century, but its popularity has dropped steadily since then.

You should strive to make your writing as natural as possible, so scarves is probably the best choice if you mean garments. If you keep in mind that scarfs rhymes with barfs, and that both of these words are related to eating too much food too quickly, it will be easy to remember to reserve scarfs for this context and to use scarves as a noun.

Summary

Is it scarfs or scarves? Scarfs and scarves are two spellings of a noun that refers to a type of garment. Scarfs can also be a verb that means to eat something very quickly.

  • Scarves is never a verb.
  • Scarfs can be a verb but has fallen out of fashion as a noun.

Since scarfs rhymes with barfs, it shouldn’t be difficult to remember that scarfs is a verb and you should use scarves for a noun.