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

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    Did I miss the memo on widespread use equating to correctness?
    – OJFord
    Feb 23, 2014 at 19:56
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    @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, 2014 at 20:31
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    @ruakh It would mean a lot of people were incorrect. People take this "social construct" thing too far.
    – OJFord
    Feb 23, 2014 at 20:34
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    @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, 2014 at 21:29
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    @Ollie, yes, it seems that you did. Language is a living, evolving thing. Any ‘correctness’ in it is defined exactly by majority usage. Not by anything else. Not dictionaries, grammar books, linguists, or encyclopaedias. Those all describe language: they don't tell you what is or is not correct, only what is or is not in common use. Feb 23, 2014 at 22:49

2 Answers 2

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

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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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When you switch something, you need at least two things: A (from which you switch) and B (to which you switch). Therefore "something" should be plural. See an example in Cambridge Dictionary; After the bank robbery, the gang switched cars (= left one car and got into another). http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/switch

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