I am not native english speaker and I'm currently writing my PhD thesis on economics. The research question is whether water suppliers are minimizing their costs. However, my problem is that I seem to repeat the phrase "water suppliers" too much, and I'd like to introduce some variation.

So far, I've been using these names:

  • Water utility companies
  • Water suppliers
  • Water utilities
  • Water companies

I'm not entirely sure that all of them are correct. What other names would you recommmend me to use?

Also, I often use the words "firm", "enterprises", and "company" once it is clear they're water suppliers. Are these terms correct in the context of water suppliers? Take this phrase, for instance: "the prices faced by this firm are smaller than the rest of the companies." It feels a bit awkward for me to say that phrase when talking about water suppliers.

I am still on an early stage of the writing, so I can change the style completely if needed. Thanks in advance for your responses.

  • 1
    "The prices faced by this firm are smaller than the rest" sounds okay to me.
    – NVZ
    Feb 29, 2016 at 14:30
  • 2
    Those all sound good as long as they're correct. If you're referring to bottled water, that is definitely not a utility but could easily be called a water company. if you're referring to the public good that comes out of your tap, utility may be a government utility or a privatized company (one is not the other) or could be a utility that is a private company. The final unsatisfying answer is 'it depends', but if you're speaking in generalities then 'it doesn't matter'.
    – Mitch
    Feb 29, 2016 at 14:32
  • 5
    Welcome to ELU. If the term water suppliers is central to your (academic) thesis, then using a consistent term may be a virtue - that is something to discuss with your supervisor / advisor. Regarding your sample sentence, it can be simplified to "this firm faces lower prices than the others". Having said that, please note that open-ended lists are discouraged on this forum unless a canonical list can be produced.
    – Lawrence
    Feb 29, 2016 at 14:42
  • 2
    In the US, the term used is commonly water utilities. Hence water utility company. Many cities or counties, process their own water supply, hence, water utility department, In small town America, we usually have cooperatives among multiple small towns/cities, each too small to have their own water utility dept, hence water utility cooperative, or a water utility district. Similarly sharing the same school system among multiple small jurisdictions school district. For example, Portland Water District is a water utility in Portland ME with surrounding towns/cities. Feb 29, 2016 at 14:57
  • 2
    A water utility is not necessarily the same thing as a water agency, water supplier, water company, water district, and so on; the management of the public water supply varies considerably from place to place, and you may expect the terminology to vary as well. Please be more explicit in describing what the role of these firms is. For example, the recent horror in Flint relates to the local water utility being a water distributor but not having been its own water supplier in some time.
    – choster
    Feb 29, 2016 at 15:45

4 Answers 4


"Organization" is a useful word to describe an entity such as a water supplier that does not carry the additional meanings associated with 'company', 'firm' etc

"the prices faced by this firm are smaller than the rest of the companies" is better phrased as "this [firm/organization] faced lower prices than the other [companies]"

"smaller" is not correct in this context, you should use lower.

Better (if the meaning is correct) is "this [firm] faced lower prices than its competitors"

or simply

"this [firm/organization] faced lower prices than others"

Finally, 'face' implies challenge, whereas in this context, if I understand what you are trying to convey, it would be better to use "benefitted from", enjoyed or something similar.

"this [firm/organization] benefitted from lower prices than others"


For a PhD thesis I would think precision is more important than style. There are subtle but meaningful differences between the terms you listed. A "supplier" is simply any entity that supplies something. A "company" implies (I think) some sort of incorporated legal entity, usually a profit-making commercial entity. A "utility" is another type of legal entity. (At least that's my understanding; I'm not an economist or lawyer.) So my answer would be: use exactly the term you need to use in order to be technically accurate. If you mean to refer any kind of entity that supplies water, regardless of whether it's a public utility or a profit-making corporation, then call it a "water supplier." If you keep using the term over and over again in your thesis, so what? It's a technical paper, not a novel or a newspaper article. (That's my 2 cents worth, anyway.)


My husband is a water resources engineer- and when he writes for the public (such a county commission or public citizen group) he sticks to the most usual term and doesn't worry about repetition, indeed in those cases, repetition is preferred. But, in an academic setting, with the assumption that all terms are equivalent- I think it is fine and likely preferred to vary somewhat.


The ones you listed are different from each other. The collective term is water industry.


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