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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.)

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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.

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    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 Jan 16 '14 at 16:39
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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.

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'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 Jan 15 '14 at 18:25
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    I'm so glad I chimed-in! "I'm running some errands later, want to come with me?" – MrWonderful Jan 15 '14 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. ;-) – MrWonderful Jan 15 '14 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. – MrWonderful Jan 15 '14 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 Jan 15 '14 at 19:33
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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.

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