a. He did an errand for his mother.
b. He ran an errand for his mother.

I'm not a native english speaker. This expression 'do an errand' is easy for me to understand. We also have this expression 'do an errand' in our tongue. But in 'run an errand' I don't know what does 'run' mean.
I understand what 'run' means in these sentence:

Can you run as fast as Mike?
I ran to meet her.

But when natives use 'run an errand'... What nuance of meaning of the word 'run' is here?
So, Does 'run an errand' mean 'He runs to do an errand'? If I'm walking to do an errand, it is not run an errand but do an errand? I'm confused. T.T (Oh! she is running in the picture)

enter image description here

  • 6
    The word "run" is notorious for having many meanings
    – sumelic
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 3:13
  • 1
    There are some words in English that are used in a multitude of ways in idioms. See the comment from @sumelic above. Mr Winchester's wonderful piece on the verb run from the N.Y Times is here. Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 3:18
  • 3
    To be clear, the physical act of running has nothing to do with the idiom run an errand. You could just as well crawl, skip, or pilot a helicopter in the course of completing the errand. Run here means perform. Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 3:32
  • In fact, I'm not certain I would use "do" for errands outside the house (as they typically are...) Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 4:02
  • 1
    I would read it in the same way I understand run a computer program.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 15:25

4 Answers 4


"Run an errand" is an idiom. Its meaning is not built up in a natural way from the meanings of its parts. I can think of no other expression where "run" essentially just means "do", but it does here.

I think LawrenceC's answer gives a good explanation of how it makes sense for this particular idiom to have evolved.

  • Indeed, NOAD lists run an errand as an idiom under the word run, as opposed to listing a definition where run generally means “perform”.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 9:13
  • 4
    I do think "run an errand" implies that you are going somewhere else to do the errand. I wouldn't use this idiom to describe a task I have to do at my current location.
    – David Z
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 10:13
  • 1
    @DavidZ Doesn't errand itself imply that the task requires departing from where one is right now? Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 15:15
  • "I can think of no other expression where "run" essentially just means "do", but it does here." My computer runs programs all the time. Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 18:26
  • @JimMacKenzie Yes, it does, though I would say not as strongly as when paired with "run".
    – David Z
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 21:01

Run has a lot of meanings. One of those in the form of run to X means to go somewhere with the intent of returning quickly. For example:

I'm going to run to the store and get grapes.

You intend to go to the store just to buy grapes and come back. You aren't intending to stay at the store and browse for additional things to shop, talk to people, etc.

While an errand is usually something you do and not a place, the word errand typically implies you have to travel to places such as stores, etc. So you never say run to some errands but merely run some errands.

  • 1
    And to add to this: you wouldn't mean you're physically running to the store. Here, run implies that the errand is quick. Consider: "I want to make some oatmeal this morning, but we're out of milk. Do you mind running to the store to get some?* Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 15:14

Simply put, ran an errand means the same as did an errand. Here, run is not literal. Run has many meanings, which include perform, complete, accomplish. Furthermore, you could drive or walk to your destinations and still say that you ran errands.

In he runs to do an errand, I would take runs to be literal. In other words, in order to complete his errand, he physically runs. Notice that this is different in meaning from he ran an errand.

In my opinion, the image includes a running person to imply that they will do the work quickly, promptly. It is does not imply that they will literally run to do the errands. Chances are they will be driving around town.

Also, run an errand is more common than do an errand: Ngram

enter image description here

  • 1
    I think one of the more interesting facets of that Ngram is that run an errand and do an errand were running along neck-in-neck about 50 or 60 years ago. Apparently, the run version didn’t gain prominence (at least in writing) until the 1970s.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 9:09

In this case, run means to do, to complete.

However, run/ran can have many meanings.

  • 1
    Older answers said that already, with much more detail.
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 18:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .