ENGLISCH/862: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (171) - supply or provide? (SB)


171. Supply or provide?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I've just one short and maybe silly question:
What is the difference between supply and provide?


Ute T. (from Grenada)


Dear Mrs T.,

To be honest, I don't think there is much of a difference between those two words in their main meaning: If someone supplies or provides something, he gives or sell it to someone. Here are some examples for you to see what I mean:

Imagine a conversation between two friends who are preparing to go camping:

A: Right, what do we need to take? B: First food. I will supply us with that. A: Then I will provide the drink. What about sleeping bags? B: John said, he could provide sleeping bags for all of us. ... and so on.

Now, it's not easy to define when that is, but there are times when you do use the word provide where you couldn't say supply. It's often at times where a thing or a situation provides and not a person. Perhaps the most common phrase is: "to provide an example" or "to provide an opportunity".

Here are some examples from a commentary about crabs which was broadcasted by the BBC-world-service:

"When the shell is too small the crab discards it. The shell then provides a home for another kind of crab".

The animal world provides a lot of examples for that close relationship. I hope I could help you,


Miranda Gobbledygook


Holidays - Quite a few of our readers might travel to English- speaking countries and come back with a lot of questions. Now, a few words about sending "Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook":

I am delighted to receive your questions but please only questions on the English language. I cannot give you advice on how to come and study in Britain for example. And your questions should be fairly specific. I cannot answer a request about general advice, such as: "How can I improve my English. And finally, I obviously can't answer a question that would take more then one or two pages or would take a whole book to answer, such as: "How can I understand the English tense system" on which whole books have been written.

But if you ask for example why, in the last sentence, we should use the the present perfect tense "have been written" then I stand a chance of answering it in this "pool". If you want more examples, you find them there.

I only mention these, because I want you to be considerate before you write and not to waste time and money on any questions I can not possibly answer. I realize what an effort it can be to write a letter or an email and in some cases what a lot of money a stamp costs these days.

Another point is that I can't answer all the letters that do come in, but we do our best to answer as many letters as we can and in particular to answer questions that will be of interest to as many readers as possible.

Thank you and have a fine holiday in Britain or elsewhere,


Miranda Gobbledygook

20 July 2009