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I was wondering if it's wrong to say 'a set' instead of 'a collection'.

  • I have a set of stamps.
  • I have a collection of stamps.
  • I have a set of sounds that we can use.
  • I have a collection of sounds that we can use.
  • I have a set of weapons.
  • I have a collection of weapons.

I think that 'a set' mostly means an exclusive collection or a list of things.

4

In this context, the word set implies that there is some kind of relationship between the items that are part of it. It could mean either that

  • there are only a limited number of different ones (for example pokemon cards)
  • they are all in the same style or pattern (a set of cutlery, a set of spanners)
  • you need all of the items to do something (a Lego set, a tool set, a chemistry set).

A collection, on the other hand, does not imply any kind of relationship between the items: they simply belong to one person or are in the same place. You could talk about an art collection (owned by one person) or a collection of junk (in one place).

Of the examples that you suggested (stamps, sounds, weapons), collection would work with all of them. Set might work as follows:

  • stamps a limited edition of twelve special Christmas stamps and you had all of twelve them.
  • sounds I can't really see this
  • weapons a sword, dagger and shield made by the same armourer and bearing the owner's coat of arms. Fantasy gamers might talk about a weapon set in the same way as a carpenter might talk about a tool set, but that's a rather specialized usage.

Some firearms are available in pairs (shotguns, dueling pistols), but I don't think that two really constitutes a set.

If there is a set (for example Pokemon cards), you can collect items from the set, and it remains a collection until you have all of them, in which case you can refer to it as either a collection or a (full) set.

If you buy a set of tools, you can't refer to it as a collection. If you collect rare 19th century tools, that could be a collection, but never a set: a tool set is a set because it's something that you use, not something that you keep in a display cabinet.

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  • 1
    So in this context, a set of weapons is a curious phrase, unless the weapons were all similar in some way. Also there should be more than two of them in the set, otherwise you would usually say a pair of X, like (in this case) "a pair of matched dueling pistols from the 17th century."
    – Andrew
    Dec 6 '16 at 17:03
  • Can we make a set out of a collection and a collection out of a set? Dec 6 '16 at 17:10
  • @Andrew, thank you for raising that point: I have updated my answer.
    – JavaLatte
    Dec 6 '16 at 17:54
  • @SovereignSun a set is one kind of collection, but a collection is not necessarily a set. *Except as D.Nelson points out, a "collection" implies "something you have collected", while a "set" might just be "something you have". But I'm probably making it more complicated than it needs to be :)
    – Andrew
    Dec 6 '16 at 18:20
  • @Andrew If you buy a collection of coins will it still be a collection? Dec 6 '16 at 18:48
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Both mean a group of items with similar characteristics or properties, but to me their meanings are subtly different:

Collection implies that the items have been purposefully collected or gathered together, by a collector.

Set is more general and just denotes a group of items that belong together in some way, but have not necessarily been actively brought together by an outside agent. It also implies that the group of items can be used to serve some purpose, e.g. a "tool set". However, a person who appreciated old tools but did not use them might procure a "tool collection".

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A set implies a formal, identifiable relationship between the items. That's why the word set is used in mathematics. Number sets. The set of real numbers, for example. When used for THINGS, a set of tools, the implication is that they all belong together in that category. A set of tools would not include toys. Sets are not defined by a person. They are defined by the category of thing.

A collection is just a group of things that do not necessarily have formal unifying characteristics but that have been brought together by a person, the "collector", either formally ("He is a stamp collector") or informally ("Look at that collection of junk on their porch"). In the second example, someone has collected (grouped together) the junk and put it on the porch.

So, using those definitions, we might get: I have a set of Civil War stamps in my collection.

I have a collection of stamps. [I collected them]

I have a set of [dog, cat, animal, outdoor] sounds that we can use. [cat, dog, animal and outdoor make them belong together]

I have a collection of sounds that we can use. [I collected the sounds.]

I have a set of Iron Age weapons. [the all come from the Iron Age]

I have a collection of weapons. [I collected the weapons. I put grouped them together.

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