According to Cambridge Dictionary, I found that "stop off", "stop in", "stop by" all mean "stop to visit someone/ somewhere for a short time while you are going to somewhere else" in general. I feel confused. Can you tell me what are the differences between these phrases? Thanks in advance.
They may be somewhat the same but beyond any regional differences, they can also mean something different.
- If you are going on a trip somewhere, you can:
- stop off at someone's house or office or shop or whatever and visit them.
It does not matter if that is for ten minutes or ten days. "stop off" [the route you are taking to a place.]
- If you are driving or cycling or even walking to a place where you live, you can:
- stop by someone's house, workplace, shop or whatever. Generally speaking, if you are going a long distance, you stop off at: They flew to Sydney from London but stopped off in Dubai. In these cases, you cannot "stop by". And yes, stopping by for a chat (for example) does imply a short time.
- If you are going somewhere locally (as with stop by), you can:
stop in (on someone or to see someone or at a place). The preposition "in" implies a place but it does not need to be named necessarily. It is definitely local also.
On my way to work, I stopped in to see him at his pet store.
Now, the hard part, I have tried to provide the prepositions or nouns that one might use with these expressions as this can be the source of confusion to non-English speakers. But here's the sticky wicket, the idea of going to see someone in English can be very complicated indeed as it is associated with a number of verbs and prepositions. Some other ones are:
- come/go over [to a place. usual AmE usage]
- stop round [a place, mostly British]
- come round/go round [mostly but not exclusively British]
- pop over/round/in/and even down or up [most definitely British and ever so charming]. "Ah, he's in the attic office. I'll just pop up and see him." Also, as an understated way of saying something: ""We'll just pop over to Auckland [from Sydney] on our way to Saigon".
Please note: These are the most usual as I think of them right now. There are surely many others that just have not come to mind.
[It thought this question was fine for ELU. I guess that thought was not shared by the honchos.]
I think the real difference here is mostly regional. They're all equivalent phrases, but they are preferred differently in different parts of the UK (I don't know if/how these are used in the US).
I would say 'stop by'. I am from the Midlands. I wouldn't use the others, but I have friends who do, and it never confuses or sounds strange at all.