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I was just now watching a TV programme where a character said "I'm concerned when we switch brands of coffee".

Ignoring the choice of:

switch brands of coffee // switch coffee brands

Is it correct to say brands (pl.), because to me both the above and:

switch brand of coffee // switch coffee brand

sound fine, or at least, I do hear both. Which is "more correct"?

I feel as though I can justify either: the sentence speaks of switching to a singular thing, but then it switches between plural things.

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Try a Google search for "switch brand" -"the switch brand" and see how many of the first 20 say results are relevant. How does this compare with the results for "switch brands"? – Edwin Ashworth Feb 23 '14 at 19:55
Did I miss the memo on widespread use equating to correctness? – Ollie Ford Feb 23 '14 at 19:56
@OllieFord: What do you think "correctness" means? (A language is a social construct, shared by its speakers. If a usage is widespread among them, what on Earth would it mean for it not to be "correct"?) – ruakh Feb 23 '14 at 20:31
@ruakh It would mean a lot of people were incorrect. People take this "social construct" thing too far. – Ollie Ford Feb 23 '14 at 20:34
@OllieFord: Obviously. If someone says X, and the reality is Y, then that someone is wrong. But I'm not sure how that applies here. When it comes to correct usage, what is the reality in question, if it's not the real usage of real speakers? – ruakh Feb 23 '14 at 21:29

Whether you switch brands or change trains, the idiom is pretty clear:

enter image description here

enter image description here

If the object changed is indeterminate, the plural is overwhelmingly preferred to the singular, by a factor of 25-40 to 1—doubtless because you are exchanging one brand/train for another.

In the rare case of a determinate object, however—if you change your train or they switch their brand—the plural vanishes and the singular rules.

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Good additional point. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 23 '14 at 23:16

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