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Which of the following is correct:

Supplier of tile, stone, tools and equipment

or

Supplier of tiles, stones, tools and equipment

If you could provide an English rule to know that would also be very much appreciated.

Thanks!

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2  
When used as a building material, stone should be a mass noun, so it should be "supplier of stone". But I think this meaning of tile could be either, so you could say "supplier of tile" or "supplier of tiles". Rule: find a dictionary that tells you what meanings are mass or count nouns. –  Peter Shor Mar 22 '13 at 18:35
    
@Peter Shor I'm even more confused now. Wood has no plural for example so that makes sense to me. You would never say, "The frame is made up of two woods." You could say, "The countertop is made up of two stones." –  Ryan Mar 22 '13 at 18:52
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On the contrary, you can say "the frame is made up of two woods." It would mean that the frame is made of two different kinds of wood. As @JohnZ explained, the plural suggests variety of kinds. –  Carolyn Mar 22 '13 at 20:34
    
Which is exactly why I initially put it plural because our suppliers do carry a variety of kinds such as limestone, slate, granite, quartz, quartzite, natural and so on. But JohnZ also said it was about distribution. So does the question then become which takes precedence the variation or the mass quantity? –  Ryan Mar 22 '13 at 20:43
    
To a large degree, yes. This whole area of nouns having various count and non-count usages is problematic and in need of further research. (If you could provide an English rule to know that would also be very much appreciated!) Non-count nouns become count nouns as well (countification) (two coffees, please // coffees made using a greater proportion of arabica are superior // which rices grow best in Indonesia?); count nouns become non-count nouns as well (massification) (eating liver, brain ...) See english.stackexchange.com/questions/94618/… –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 22 '13 at 23:03

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think this is more of a contextual usage in the sense that if you use the word tile, you imply that one is supplying tile in bulk with (potentially) less variety. However, if you use tiles, you imply that the selection of tiles being supplied is more varied and that they are not supplied in mass quantities, but rather, smaller, more personalized amounts.

Needless to say, the same principle applies to the word stone and stones.

The local hardware shop was a "supplier of tiles, stones, tools and equipment."

versus,

Home Depot is a "supplier of tile, stone, tools and equipment."

Nevertheless, no one will criticize you for using tiles in the context of the latter sentence, and vice versa. It is more of a matter of opinion, and arguably the singular usage implies mass, general quantities, whereas the plural form implies variety and a smaller quantity supplied.

Hope this helps!

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It is actually marketing materials for a book regarding the industry. "This full color publication features over 20,000 distributors and suppliers of tile/s, stone/s, equipment, tools..." –  Ryan Mar 22 '13 at 19:05
    
Personally, I would lean towards using the singular tile and stone; however, like I said before, it is a matter of opinion. I tend to read this more smoothly with the singular usage, and, given the large quantity of distributors, I would use the singular to imply a more large-scale supply of tile, stone, tools, and equipment. –  JohnZ Mar 22 '13 at 19:09
    
Also to note, modern comma usage routinely dictates that in a list of items, one should add a comma before the final and .... For example: "This full color publication features over 20,000 distributors and suppliers of tile, stone, tools, and equipment." –  JohnZ Mar 22 '13 at 19:11
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'arguably the singular usage implies mass, general quantities, whereas the plural form implies variety and a smaller quantity supplied' - well put. More arguable is where the dividing line between those nouns which may be massified and those which may not lies. In this semantic area, stone, brick, slate, tile, rebar, shingle. Pebble. Pantile? I remember the discussion on algae. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 22 '13 at 21:59
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Supplier of stones is not used precisely because they are too readily available to be worth buying (you may be able to sell them as gravel, hardcore, etc). A supplier of stone is expected to supply the right type, size and quantity. –  TimLymington Mar 22 '13 at 23:05

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