I found this pretty good small research, but I am still concerned about "regular usage" in life, say, when I am talking in the office, especially because of this comment:

To me: Stone is something you can pick up with one hand (for throwing). A rock takes two hands.



3 Answers 3


I don't think the distinction you make is generally recognized. Lots of people talk about "throwing rocks" and also about "throwing stones".

A "stone" can be in its natural shape or it can have been cut into a desired shape, while "rock" indicates only the natural shape. That is, you can have a "tombstone" or "paving stones". If you say that you built a wall from "stone blocks", that will normally be understood to mean that they have been cut into a rectangular shape or whatever desired shape. But a wall built of "rocks" means in the shape you found them when you dug them up.

Dictionaries I checked listed them as synonyms.


In American English, there is little difference between a rock and a stone, but in British English, there is. See these links: rock and stone

  • rock: a material
  • stone: a material
  • a rock: a big, unshaped piece of material - a small boulder
  • a stone: a small piece of material, or a shaped piece of material.

You can see the difference in terminology in the children's game that is called "rock, paper, scissors" in US and "paper, scissors, stone" in the UK.

This Ngram indicates that the idea of "a rock" as something that is small enough throw started sometime in the 1860's.

  • Wow, that Ngram is interesting!
    – sumelic
    Mar 28, 2016 at 11:05
  • I'm BrE, and I've never heard of paper, scissors, stone. It's always rock, in my experience. Nov 17, 2016 at 17:38
  • I see your link cites the World RPS Society claiming The Paper Scissors Stone Club was founded in London, England in 1842, but separatedbyacommonlanguage admit themselves that this is "apparently fictional". Although I've never heard stone, we did use to vary the name sequence to disorient the opponent. If you challenge someone to a game, they often open with the last option spoken in the name, so rock is a good bet for your first move. But I like Gary Larson's take on it! Nov 17, 2016 at 21:40
  • @FumbleFingers: One of the links I provided contains a survey, the results of which show there's roughly a 70/30 split between rock and stone. It doesn't give a geographic breakdown.
    – JavaLatte
    Nov 18, 2016 at 9:30

In your example, there is is no real distinction

I threw a rock
I threw a stone

and most people will not make an explicit distinction

Rocks in His Pockets
Stones In His Pockets

However, to geologists, a stone is made of rock, but a rock is not made of stone.

Rock is considered the material. A stone is usually thought to be smallish and can be handled.

To possibly add some confusion to the naming scheme, there is Stone Mountain which certainly won't fit in your hand and is made of rock, and there is also Rock City which is a collection of rock formations.

Now, if you were to ask the difference between getting rocked or being stoned...

  • Likewise "the demonstrators stoned the police" and "the demonstrators rocked the police" :-)
    – JavaLatte
    Mar 28, 2016 at 7:41

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