You say ‘tomato’ …

By |  June 16, 2016

Maybe it was a day I had too much time on my hands. Not sure. But at some point in my 20-plus years at this magazine, I started to wonder about the word “aggregate.” Whenever used in reference to crushed stone, sand and gravel, we see the term written and hear it spoken sometimes as “aggregate” and sometimes as “aggregates.” The two seem to be used interchangeably.

But which is correct?

I posed the question to Gus Edwards, former president and CEO of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, and now part owner of a group of newspapers in Virginia.

Gus replies, “That same discussion occurred when I joined the National Stone Association (NSA) about 20 years ago. In those days, ‘crushed stone’ was distinct from ‘sand and gravel’ as a construction material, all the more so since each had its own trade association. More often than not,” Gus says, “crushed stone was referred to as ‘aggregate’ and sand and gravel as ‘aggregates,’ but, confusingly, also frequently as ‘aggregate.’”

Gus says he looked everywhere for a definitive use of the terms, but found none.

So, as editor of Stone Review and the NSA newsletter, he made a decision to refer to them as “construction aggregates” on first reference and “aggregates” thereafter.

“It stuck,” he says. And when Gus edited the second edition of what he calls the industry bible in 2012-13, he renamed it The Aggregates Handbook and put an “s” on “aggregate” throughout the book.

Gus says that since the word refers to three types of materials, it should be plural. “I suppose someone could make the argument that the word can be either singular or plural, like the word ‘sheep.’ But I ain’t buying it,” he says.

I had been thinking along those same lines before hearing from Gus, so his argument convinced me. “Aggregates” it would be.

But then …

My wife has worked as a newspaper copy editor for several years, and she sent me the definition of “aggregate” directly from Webster’s New World College Dictionary, the dictionary of choice for Associated Press style guidelines.

Look up the noun “aggregate” in that reference source, and you’ll find no option for a plural that includes an “s.” It lists three definitions for “aggregate”:
1. a group or mass of distinct things gathered into, or considered as, a total or whole
2. the sand or pebbles added to cement in making concrete or mortar
3. an aggregate rock

The word is basically plural on its own – kind of like, well, “sheep.”

So, back to square one.

Do you have an opinion on the matter? We need some convincing one way
or another, and we’d love to hear from you. Please email me your thoughts at

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About the Author:

Darren Constantino is an editor of Pit & Quarry magazine. He can be reached at

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