The day before yesterday I think, my daughter asked me where we were going and since I was not planning to do the weekly shopping on that day and I just wanted to buy some stuff from two stores, I said offhand we are going to the shops! Looking back, it seems when I don't find a NAmE word I turn to UK if I know of.

So what do you say when:

  1. go shopping (it's just go shopping!)
  2. you go to buy something specific; I mean you're not going shopping, and it's usually found in any store. You don't have to shop around.
  3. you want to buy non grocery or clothing stuff, maybe a can of paint and a spare part for your car together.

I have found some kind of answer for this question on this page, but I prefer to get a clear answer to my points above, and also if you agree with this native speaker about using store in singular form not plural:

Just as a side note, we don't use the plural in American English. "I'm going to the store" (even if I may visit several stores), not "I'm going to the stores". (If we know we are going to several stores I think it would be more likely to say "I'm going shopping" or even "I'm going downtown" in smaller towns.)


6 Answers 6


I think in some ways you have answered your own question(s).

  1. Yes, "go shopping". One would not say "go storing". Shopping is, as far as I know, used the same way in UK and US English, and has nothing to do with "shop" vs "store".

  2. and 3. You would either name the store or type of store ("I'm going to the hardware store") or, as you say, ""I'm going shopping" or "I'm going downtown", but not "I'm going to the stores". You might be inclined to add specifics: "I'm going shopping for a hammer", for example.

In certain places, you may find "shop" and "store" are interchanged (I certainly do this, having lived in both US-English and UK-English countries). If you want to sound natural, though, stick with what is usual for your area.

Of interest:

eytmonline.com says that "shop" meaning "booth or shed for trade or work" is c. 1300, while "to visit shops for the purpose of examining or purchasing goods" is from 1764 (no idea what they would have said before that!).

Meaning "building or room set aside for sale of merchandise" is from mid-14th century, while "store" for "place where goods are kept for sale" is first recorded 1721, in American English.

There was apparently a strong distinction between "shop" and "store" in US English, with "shop" having retained its original (1300) meaning:

The word store is of larger signification than the word shop. It not only comprehends all that is embraced in the word shop, when that word is used to designate a place in which goods or merchandise are sold, but more, a place of deposit, a store house. In common parlance the two words have a distinct meaning. We speak of shops as places in which mechanics pursue their trades, as a carpenter's shop a blacksmith's shop a shoemaker's shop. While, if we refer to a place where goods and merchandise are bought and sold, whether by wholesale or retail, we speak of it as a store. [C.J. Brickell, opinion in Sparrenberger v. The State of Alabama, December term, 1875]

Not sure whether that use of "shop" remains in US English.

  • 5
    The service vs. packaged goods distinction is broadly retained in AmE. I may say informally that I work for a software shop (i.e. a software development consultancy), which is something rather different from a software store (i.e. a retailer selling commercial software, probably boxed and shelved). Prepared food may be sold at a sandwich shop or donut shop, while packaged food is sold at a grocery store or convenience store. But certain types of retailers use other words or phrases idiomatically: car dealers or dealerships, supermarkets, newsstands, mini-marts, and so on.
    – choster
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 16:39

'Run some errands' comes to mind, especially for your #3 example. In "I'm going to the auto-parts store to buy something for my car", the focus is to get the part for the car, not the shopping itself.

'Run some errands' could include shopping, or even be solely shopping as well, but could also include anything else you may want to accomplish while away from where you begin.

For the record, I'm a native English speaker in the U.S. ;-)

  • Wonderful! I never thought of this even though I know the expression but I've never used it before, and in fact I don't know how to use it. You could do a favor by using it the way you would use it in real life; there could be more than one scenario but you could pick the most common one, and also if you don't mind could you tell me what you say if someone asked you about what you are doing while you are on errands. Do you say, I'm running some errands?
    – learner
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 18:25
  • 1
    I'm so glad I chimed-in! "I'm running some errands later, want to come with me?" Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 18:54
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    Darn comment editor! @learner: I'm so glad I chimed-in! "I'm running some errands later, want to come with?(me)?" or "I need to run some errands, I'll be over after that." 'Running some errands' in response to 'what are you doing' sounds slightly evasive. You might expect it to be followed-up with 'Oh, like what?' if someone wants to press the issue. You could respond with some of the detail, if pressed: "Oh, not much, just picking up some dry-cleaning and stopping by the auto parts store for some brake pads." I'd say whatever feels comfortable to you. ;-) Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 19:03
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    P.S. It's also common to use the phrase 'going to the mall' if applicable, in place of 'going to the shops', assuming that the shops are actually part of a shopping center / mall. Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 19:06
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    Excellent suggestion! As you say "Running some errands" could sound evasive, but, for the OP's interest, "(I'm) just running some errands" is common phrasing that doesn't sound rude!
    – nxx
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 19:33

Speaking as an American, grew up in New York, most of my life in Ohio, currently in Michigan:

I don't think I've ever heard an American say, "I am going to the shops" or "... to a shop".

If you just want to be general, you can say, "I am going shopping" or "I am going to the store."

"Shopping" can mean browsing around looking for anything that strikes your interest, or it can mean that you are looking for specific items. I guess it would be unlikely for someone to say "I am going shopping" if their intent is to buy just one or two specific items, like run to the hardware store, get a can of paint, and come home. But it wouldn't be jarring if someone used in that way, just unusual.

As nxx says, yes, a "store" is a place where goods are stocked for retail sale, while a "shop" is a place where services are performed. Thus you get your shoes repaired at the "cobbler's shop", NOT the "cobbler's store". But you buy new shoes at a "shoe store", NOT a "shoe shop". You get your car repaired at an "auto repair shop", NOT an "auto repair store". But if you're fixing the car yourself, you buy the parts at an "auto parts store", NOT an "auto parts shop".

Some cases are hazy. Like you get meat at a "butcher shop", NOT a "butcher store". The butcher cuts and prepares the meat, so he is performing a service, though I'd think the main point is that he is stocking and selling the meat.

One business may perform multiple functions. Like in my cobbler shop / shoe store example, some shoe stores also provide repair services and some cobblers also sell shoes. So there's some ambiguity what you would call them. But that's no different from the problem of what to call a store that sells different, unrelated products. Like most drug stores in America today also sell many other products, typically snack foods and grooming products, sometimes other things. But we still call them "drug stores", not "drug and snack food stores". I guess you pick the main thing they do. If they do enough different things, they become a "department store".

Oh, sometimes a store will call itself a "shop" or "shoppe" because Americans are aware of the UK usage and they want to give it a slightly exotic flair. Like when I lived in Ohio there was a shopping mall that was officially named, "The Shoppes at Fairfield Commons". As it was in the town of Fairborn, in real life everyone called it "the Fairborn mall", but they tried.

To the best of my knowledge, what I've said here applies across the U.S. I haven't noticed any regional variation. I understand it is different from the U.K. No idea about other English-speaking countries.

  • Store and shop are interchangeable in USA at least. I dont know about UK. What UK calls "shops", Americans would call it a "mall" usually, but shops and shopping center are also used by Americans.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 22 at 12:04
  • @Megas Maybe that's a regionalism, but where I lived in the US -- New York, Ohio, and Michigan -- no one ever said "I'm going to the shops." It was, "I'm going to the store" or "I'm going to the mall". If someone referred to a store as a "shop", it was to say that it was something quaint and old fashioned. Like, "I found this cute little antique shop in the country."
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 24 at 13:15
  • I lived in New York, and shop is used for smaller stores like "coffee shop". No one says "coffee store". I do agree people dont say "I am going to the shops" much there.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 25 at 11:57
  • @Megas "Coffee shop" -- true, same anyplace I lived. Sometmes "shoe shop" or "shoe repair shop". Maybe there are another two or three that I'm not thinking of. But mostly it's "store". "Hardware store", "shoe store", "toy store", "department store", "clothing store", etc.
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 25 at 15:36
  • In USA, shop is only used for small stores normally, but yes, it’s usually store. In Australia, both terms are common, but store is getting more popular.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 25 at 22:50

In the UK, you can use the example that you mentioned "we are going to the shops". In general, you can say we are going shopping.

You may find the second example under the first definition here http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/shopping?q=shopping, useful.


I suggest many US Americans would say "I'm going to the stores" even if they knew they were in fact going to a single store.

Where "shop" and "store" are "interchanged" can you explain both where, and when or how?

I see your “no idea what they would have said before” as much more useful than Eytmonline’s "shop" meaning "booth or shed for trade or work" c1300 or "to visit shops for the purpose of examining or purchasing goods" from 1764.

Doesn’t c1300 "booth or shed for trade or work" and mid-14C (ie, c1350) "building or room set aside for sale of merchandise” say all that's needed?

“Store" for “place where goods are kept for sale is first recorded 1721, in American English”, suggests it was never previously recorded in any other variant of English. Is that what you’re saying? Isn’t “first recorded in American English in 1721” very different?

Don’t you think that until modern times - roughly, around the end of the First World War - the useful difference between "shop" and "store" was always that "shop" meant a place where things were made… eg, blacksmith’s/ carpenter’s/ jeweller’s shop? That is now, and was then more obvious in US American than in British English… but see below.

That “The word store is of larger signification than the word shop. It not only comprehends all that is embraced in the word shop, when that word is used to designate a place in which goods or merchandise are sold, but more, a place of deposit, a store house…” before anything else, suggests that English is not your first and might not even be your second language.

"Shop" and "store" do not have have distinct meanings in modern English in general, unless you go to the trouble of averaging out a score or more variants… failing that, the difference is an idiomatic preference based on geography, not anything truly semantic.

“We…” who speak of shops as places in which mechanics pursue their trades, as a carpenter’s/ blacksmith’s/ shoemaker's shop would be more specific than you seem to recognise, even if the appropriate term was “mechanics”.

It might be that simple in US American English; that might also apply to Australian, Canadian, South African and New Zealand, Zimbabwean or any other variant you could name.

Today, the difference is purely geographical: British English almost exclusively uses “shop”; US American, almost always “store”; other varieties make their own way. That almost means British English is

Traditionally, that wasn’t the case. The family tended to live in a couple of rooms above a back-room work-place and a front-room sales space; a back-room shop and a front-room store… if you cared about that distinction, which most people did not.

In British English, the work- and sales-spaces merged into a single “shop” and then the back room dropped out, re-emerging as specifically a "workshop".

In US American English, the work- and sales-spaces remain separate, "shop" referring to the back and “store” to the front room.

This strikes me as another example of how when there's a clear difference, US American is usually more obviously right than British English.

  • I never heard an American say "I am going to the stores". For a collective group of stores, they would say "I am going to the mall". They would say "I am going to the store" only if it is 1 store.
    – Megas
    Commented Jun 22 at 12:03
  • I'm not seeking any argument here, and I suggest 'a collective group of stores' no more need refer to the dozens of different stores by chance found in any mall than to the potentially hundreds of stores in any chain, founds across however many malls or individual sites. Commented 11 hours ago

In USA, both shop and store are used, though shop is mainly for smaller places, while store is for larger places.

Shops is used in UK as the equivalent of what Americans would call a "mall", though some places in America address themselves as "shops" and even "shopping center", though shopping center is mostly for outdoor places and not for an enclosed building filled with shops.

Las Vegas in the USA state of Nevada has a place called Forum Shops at the Caesars Palace Casino, and that is just one example.


I think for what USA would say "Going to the store", UK would say "I am going to the shop". For what UK would say "I am going to the shops", USA would say "I am going to the mall".


This wikipedia article does say USA calls them malls, while UK calls it a shopping centre for the enclosed building of shops.

However, a lot of my experiences dont always align with Wikipedia. I have heard people call a mall in USA as a shopping center, because technically a mall is an enclosed shopping center, though most stick with mall cause it is just 1 syllable and not 4.

  • No, 'shops' is very clearly not used in the UK as the equivalent of what Americans would call a 'mall'; not even if it's 'the shops'. What Americans call 'a mall' is not unlikely in the UK to be called… uh… 'a mall', though it's more likely to be called 'a shopping centre'. The key point here is that 'the shops' can equally refer to two or three stores or a small arcade or a long high street, among other constructions, none of which usefully resembles either a 'mall' or even a 'shopping centre'. If anyone cares, historical detail is available on request. Commented 11 hours ago

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