I am an English assistant and I often hear my non-native students say:

I often buy fruits when I go to the supermarket.

I think it is wrong logically because "go" means "to move or travel from one place to another" (source). I am not sure whether it implies "you are already there"

Should we change to:

I often buy fruits when I am at the supermarket

but it does not say that "I go to the supermarket".

How do native speakers express that idea?

Note: when could mean "after", so, I often buy fruits when I go to the supermarket=I often buy fruits after I go to the supermarket

  • 6
    But you have to go to the supermarket before you can buy anything, right?
    – user3169
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 2:54
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    In the United States, at least, you would say at the supermarket. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 5:10
  • 8
    There's no problem with "often". You'd only say "usually" if you bought fruit most of the time, and "often" could be less than that. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 9:01
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    @Strawberry That sentence has a different meaning where I am from. The first "I often buy fruits when I go to the supermarket." would mean that if I am at the supermarket, often, I will also buy fruits. Such as if I go to the supermarket to buy nuts, then I will also often buy fruit while I am there. The sentence 'I often buy fruit at the supermarket' would mean that when I am actively seeking to buy fruit, then I will often go to supermarket (rather than say a convenience store, or local farm). Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 19:13
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    I'm with @RobertMcKee on this one. (In Britain at least) to 'go to the supermarket' is about the intent to buy shopping. By 'when I go to the supermarket' what the person actually means is 'when I do my regular visit to the supermarket to buy food'. Saying "I often buy fruit when I am in the supermarket" sounds like "if I happen to be in the supermarket for any reason, I will often buy fruit", or it sounds like the person is defending their decision to buy fruit: "A pineapple? Are you trying something new?" - "No, I often buy fruits when I am in the supermarket".
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 23:14

6 Answers 6


In the context of running errands, go to (some place) is idiomatic speech, and it means more than the physical act of going to that location. So, when I “go to the store,” I don’t merely park in a parking spot and then go home; rather, I go into the store – presumably to purchase some items.

Similarly, when you go to the dentist, you go inside and get your teeth cleaned; when you go to the barbershop, you get your hair cut; and when I go to the bakery, I’m probably not going just to smell the aroma of fresh-baked bread – I’m most likely buying some of that bread and taking it home with me.

Therefore, there is nothing illogical about what your students are saying – although, as other answers have said, most native speakers would use fruit instead of fruits.

  • 24
    It might be worth mentioning that the following sounds natural to a native speaker: "I often buy fruits and vegetables when..." Additionally, "fruit and vegetables" sounds unnatural. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 13:21
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    @maxathousand: That is subjective/regional. To me "fruit and vegetables" sounds correct and "fruits and vegetables" sound wrong. For reference British English here.
    – Chris
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 13:41
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    Along the same lines, if we're camping in the wilderness and I tell my companions that I'm going to go to the bathroom, they'll understand that I won't be hiking back to the nearest building which has a public toilet, but may in fact be behind a nearby tree for the next few moments.
    – A C
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 13:55
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    @AC Among friends close enough to go camping with, We'd be more direct and take the opportunity use one of the many and varied synonyms, similes or metaphors for urination that our various dialects provide. Normally "I'm going for a ....."
    – JeffUK
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 15:30
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    In at least some English usage (not sure how universal this is), "fruits" means different kinds of fruit. If I buy two apples and three pears, then "I bought five fruit" and "I bought two fruits" are both true. You can see a similar usage in fish vs fishes.
    – Ross Smith
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 21:20

Your student is not wrong. Natively in American English we use "go" in this way. "Go" in most cases implies "to be" which means you don't have to specifically say you are in a place. "Go" also implies an action which is specific from context.

When I go to the movies, I often buy popcorn.

In this example, I will "go” (exist at) the movie theater with the contextual action of watching movies. While I am there I will potentially buy popcorn.

  • If you are there, then you must exist there... I am using exist in the sense of what a be verb naturally entails. I don`t need to say I am in a location when I go there. Going to that location implies I am there. It implies existence.
    – Greg
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 2:58
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    Yes, perfectly cromulent usage for native English speakers in Ireland and the UK. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 9:51

I think your sentence sounds fine. However, the use of the noun fruits would sound strange to a native speaker in the context of how you've used it here.

When you are talking about fruit in general then it's best to use fruit which is an uncountable noun. In some cases the noun fruits can be used as in the following example.

My three favourite fruits are apples, oranges and pears.

Here we use the plural form of fruit ( fruits) is used to describe fruit as separate items.

With regard to using the words often, usually or even always I think any are acceptable. Each of these words act as adverbs(adverbials to be more precise) that describe the frequency with which you buy fruit (= how often).

I hope that helps.

  • This is all true, but I think the question is asking more about go to the supermarket vs. in the supermarket, not fruit vs fruits.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 8:34
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    @J.R. all well and true, but the real "off key" note is the plural fruits
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 8:44
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    The question is asking how native speakers would say this. And the correct answer is this one: native speakers would use "fruit" rather than "fruits", and that is the only issue with either sentence. Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 8:55
  • @Mari-LouA - Yes, but I felt like someone should address the proposed revision: I often buy fruits when I am in the supermarket.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 9:29
  • See discussion in other comments — fruit vs fruits is regional variation. "Fruits" sounds silly to me, but apparently both are correct.
    – mattdm
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 12:48

In a literal sense 'when I go to (a place) refers to the period of time that I am engaged in the act of "going" , not the time when I have finished 'going' and am now doing something else at the place.

Colloquially and in everyday speech it also covers by implication the time you are at the place, and sometimes when you are returning from it, or related to your visit there.

  • when I go to the shop, I avoid the traffic by walking (refers to the time in which I literally "go" to the shop and my actions in "going" there.

  • when I go to the shop, I always buy an ice cream at the store across the road (refers to something happening during the time I am at the shop, not the time I'm literally "going" there, and includes an action I do while not actually "at" the shops.

  • when I go to the shop, I buy fruit/fruits (something I do at the shop but not when "going" there.

  • when I go to the shop, I buy fuel before I get home (something I do after and while going away from them.

  • when I go to the shop, I'm always tired and sleepy (could refer to my personal state after returning from the shop)

All of these would be understood and used in ordinary English. Sorry if that's confusing, it's how it is!

  • "When" could mean "after". "when I go to the shop"="after I go to the shop"
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 8:56
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    @Tom: Not exactly "after", but more like "causally linked to" (and thus often but not invariably "after"). "When I read an interesting book, I think about it for days." but also "When I read an interesting book, I put on my reading glasses." In both cases, the word when can/should be read as a synonym of whenever — it always indicates implication ("when A, B" is synonymous with "A implies B") but only indirectly connotes co-temporality. Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 21:24

The sentence is correct for written English, but no one I know in America talks/speaks that way. It would be more usual to say, "I always buy fruit when I go to the store".

Now, you may say that I've changed the meaning of the sentence by using the word "always," but in usage I actually haven't. It can be assumed that no one always buys anything. You could say, "almost always", if you wanted to emphasize that point. I cannot remember when I've heard anyone say "supermarket".

British English will no doubt have a different answer.


You've run smack into a big problem in public language discourse today. This the difference between semantics and pragmatics. Semantically, from one frame of reference, yes go means 'travel' and you don't purchase the fruit while traveling—but—pragmatically, that is the understanding of meaning in context and used functionally and socially, we clearly understand how people use the word go to mean the whole series of actions involved in the purpose of traveling—a complete trip.

  • This is incorrect. This usage of "go" is a question of aspect (the habitual aspect to be specific), which is firmly in the realm of semantics.
    – Nate C-K
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 2:40
  • It's not incorrect, it's just not a part of your model. The usage of go in this context with a perfective or achievement aspect is a pragmatic difference, or rather, requires a pragmatic approach to describe its felicity. I think that's a more complete model. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 3:30

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