What is supply? Definition and examples

To supply means to make something available to somebody, a company, or other entity. The entity needs or wants that thing. If I supply somebody with something I provide them with it.


Often, the verb refers to something that happens over a long time (not always). Let’s imagine that somebody says: “That power plant supplies the town with electricity.” They are talking about making electricity available to businesses and residents of the town over the long term.

Take over

The verb may also mean to take over, as in “When Harry died, nobody could supply his place.” However, its use with this meaning was more common in the past than today.


The noun means an amount or stock of something that is available for use. That stock has been supplied.

A mother, for example, may take a large supply of diapers (UK: nappies) with her when she goes on vacation with her baby. This means a large amount that is available for use.


The noun may also mean ‘substitute’ or ‘temporary.’ For example, a supply teacher is a temporary teacher who substitutes a teacher who is away or ill.


The plural form of the noun, i.e., ‘supplies,’ may mean ‘provisions.’ If I am low on supplies, it usually means that I don’t have much food available.

In this sense, the term may also refer to medication, as in: “The refugee center is low on medical supplies.”

In business transactions, there are buyers and suppliers. Buyers pay money and receive goods and services, while suppliers supply and sell them. Suppliers are vendors.

Etymology of supply

Etymology is the study of the history and origin of words. It is also the study of how the meanings of words have evolved.


The verb, meaning “to help, support, maintain, fill up, make up for” emerged in the late fourteenth century. It came from the Old French word Soupplier, which meant “fill up, make full.” The Modern French word is Suppléer.

The Old French word came from the Latin word Supplere, which meant “complete, make full, fill up.”

In the 1520s, the verb also acquired the meaning “to furnish, provide.”


With the meaning “assistance, relief, act of supplying,” the term emerged in the English language in the 15th-century. It came from verb.

In the 16th-century, it also acquired the meaning “that which is provided, quantity or amount of something provided.”

In the 1580s, it also began to mean “person who temporarily takes the place of another.”

It wasn’t until 1776 that it became an economic term, i.e., the corollary of ‘demand.’ In 1650, it also began to mean “necessary provisions held for distribution or use.”

Supply and demand

Supply and demand are two very common concepts in economics. They drive the prices of products and services in the marketplace. They also drive salary levels. In this context, the word marketplace‘ means the same as ‘market‘ in its abstract sense.

In the world of economics:

Demand represents how much of a good or service people want.

Supply represents the quantity of a good or service that a market can offer. In other words, how much is available or how much can be provided over a specific period.


When demand for something grows faster than supply, its price usually rises. Conversely, if demand grows more slowly than supply, its price usually declines.

Economists perceive supply and demand as market forces.

Supply chain

The supply chain is the whole process of making, distributing, and selling commercial products.

It includes every stage, from extracting the raw materials to delivering the finished product to the ultimate consumer.

In other words, it includes everything, from a product’s point of origin to its point of consumption.