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I've read conflicting advice on the use of the word "goods" in an economic context (e.g. "goods for sale"). One piece of advice is that it is a plural noun that should never be used singular (e.g. "one type of good for sale).

However, I've also seen prominent usages of the singular form: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_(economics)

I'm making a computer program with some logic revolving around economic goods. Lets say I classify various Merchants by the types of goods they sell, and obviously a merchant may sell multiple types of goods.

So I may ask a user of my program "What types of goods does this merchant sell?" and present them with a list of goods, from which they can select one or more.

  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Vehicles
  • etc...

It makes sense to me that I might label the list "Goods Sold" because odds are a merchant sells multiple types, and even if they don't (say they only sell clothing), are likely to carry many styles and varieties within that type, therefore "goods."

Let's say I want to give my user a screen where they can pick from the list of possible goods, and see all the merchants which sell that good. I would ask them "Which good type would you like summarized" or "Pick good type". In this instance, I'm restricting them to choosing only one item in the list above. To me, "Pick a goods type" or "Which goods type would you like to see summarized" sound wrong but I really can't place why.

So the question really boils down to this: in the list above, is clothing a "Good Type" or a "Goods Type" (or perhaps "Type of Good" vs "Type of Goods")?

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    As a fellow programmer, I would circumvent this altogether and simply label the field "Category". – TimH Feb 21 '14 at 21:08
  • Even when you are picking only one type of good, that means there will still be multiple items, so goods is appropriate. I would probably not write pick good type. In some circumstances, you can use the singular to mean the type as opposed to a single item, but...yeah, it's complicated, I have to think about this some more. – Cerberus Feb 21 '14 at 21:11
  • @TimH I've given a very simplified and contrived example. The actual usage is in the context of a very complex system in which we really do need to refer to "Goods" or "a Good" specifically. We can't NOT use the term unfortunately. – jtheis Feb 21 '14 at 21:18
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    It seems to me you've already made your decision, since you refer in your text to "all the merchants which sell that good". It's your choice, of course, but you should be aware that the vast majority of Anglophones will consider your usage to be at the very least "peculiar" (doubtless some will simply say it's "incorrect"). FWIW, the relevant OED definition says (Now only as a countable noun, chiefly pl., but occas. in sing.) Saleable commodities, merchandise, wares (now chiefly applied to manufactured articles). – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '14 at 21:57
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    ...Of course, you could still honour your determination to have both a singular and a plural form if you just switched to product/s. No-one would criticise you there, and I can't think of any sub-context within your requirement where you couldn't just say goods and products are synonyms. – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '14 at 22:01
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The OED 'goods' - meaning: C lll 7b would seem to suggest that the singular form is obsolete and (7a (b)) that the plural form, 'goods' is used for singular.

However, I recalled from Pure Economics that theoretical Economists, will often refer to an 'economic good'. I was delighted to discover that the OED has a separate entry on 'economic good' which appears below. I regret though that this may not be much help to you.

economic good n. a commodity or service which is sufficiently scarce in relation to demand to command a price.

2000 Q. Jrnl. Econ. 115 138 Health care is an economic good, that is, a scarce resource that cannot be provided to everyone.

  • Your first sentence is fine, but I don't think the rest of the answer is at all relevant to OP's context. – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '14 at 23:09
  • @FumbleFingers If you regard language as something that exists outside of a popular dimension, divorced from the world in which people ponder, muse, and speculate, then you are probably right. – WS2 Feb 21 '14 at 23:55
  • No way! I became a committed supporter of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis when I first heard about it back in the early 70s! (Essentially, there is no real thought outside of language.) All I'm saying is that the economist's usage of "economic good" is only distantly related to OP's context. I note that "an economic good" seems to have gotten started around the 1870s, but "dry goods", for example, was a common collocation at least half a century before, so you can't really say that singular led to today's plural. – FumbleFingers Feb 22 '14 at 0:08
  • @FumbleFingers I don't happen to have a copy of Adam Smith's (died 1790) 'Wealth of Nations' to hand but it would surprise me if the term 'good' did not appear therein. Be that as it may I agree with you to the extent that the OP would, IMHO, be far better off using 'product'. – WS2 Feb 22 '14 at 0:36
  • The full text is here, but there are 585 occurrences of the word "goods", and 284 of "good", so I'm not going to search through them all. But it would surprise me if any instances of "good" were singular noun usages of any type. – FumbleFingers Feb 22 '14 at 1:05
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I took the trouble to check the occurrences of "good" in Wealth of Nations and not a single one is the singular noun. Nevertheless, it would not trouble me to say "a widget is a good."

  • If I saw a sentence that said "a widget is a good", my initial thought would be that there was a word missing. A good what? – KillingTime Mar 15 at 6:16

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