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When I spoke with a friend of mine, I had noticed she used sentences similar to "I need to go buy food."

Is it correct to say "to go buy," or should I say "to go to buy"?

I know that I could say "I need to buy food," but I think that in "I need to go buy food," who is speaking is putting in evidence s/he needs to go and that s/he cannot stay any longer, or that her/his time to stay is limited.

9

Go VERB is a colloquialism employed (apparently only in the US) to impart a little extra sense of energy and purpose to the plain VERB, as well as to indicate that VERB entails departure from the immediate situation.

It is employed only in the infinitive, never a finite or participial form. You would not say:

He goes buy food.
They went buy food.
We are going buy food.
They have gone buy food.

It is thus used with modal or semi-modal verbs, or as a complement or adjunct of purpose with lexical verbs, and invariably implies a future performance:

If you like, I can go get the dry cleaning now.
I would go gas up the car if I could find my keys.
John told Mary to go find the children.
Bill said he was going to go look up the address.
I'm putting on my coat right now to go shovel the snow off the driveway.

8

I would say (American English):

I'm going to buy food.
I {need to / have to / must} go buy food.

I don't know whether British English considers including a second to-infinitive grammatical or idiomatic, but I don't.

Many Americans would say:

I need to go and buy food.

I don't say or write that.

  • Is using "I need to go buy food" instead of "I need to go and buy food" something that could be noticed in specific places, or are both the sentences used, for example, in the same county? – kiamlaluno Feb 25 '13 at 15:20
  • The question of catenative verbs has come up recently in EL&U: tinyurl.com/ab49pbl. He seemed to want to go home is certainly a possible English sentence. There seems to be no grammatical reason why such a sentence should not be expanded to He seemed to want to go to buy some food. – Barrie England Feb 25 '13 at 15:22
  • @kiamlaluno: Both sentences are used in the same county, maybe even in the same family, maybe even in the same house. It's a matter of what one grows up saying & whether one accepts it as standard or as good enough. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane: "One pill makes you larger // And one pill makes you small // And the ones that mother gives you // Don't do anything at all // Go ask Alice // When she's ten feet tall". – user264 Feb 25 '13 at 16:17
  • @Barrie: My first instinct was that to go to buy some food was grammatical & probably more common in BrE, but I don't like it most of the time. It usually doesn't say what I mean or mean what I say if I use it without thinking about whether the second to-infinitive is really necessary. – user264 Feb 25 '13 at 16:20
  • Do you find it more palatable in the past tense? I went to buy some food, but the store was shut. – Barrie England Feb 25 '13 at 16:38
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Like the others, I'd also regard the "to" as extraneous. That said, once again, I can think of examples that might be exceptions to this generality.

Let's say I'm going to the market. Linda offers to go with me, but I tell her that she needn't feel obliged. However, there's one tidbit of information I'm unaware of: her pantry is low, and she needs to buy food anyway. The conversation might go something like this:

J.R.: Well, I'm off to the market.
Linda: Oh, I'll go with you.
J.R.: No, that's okay, you don't have to.
Linda: No, I need to go – to buy food.
J.R.: Oh! You need food anyway?
Linda: Yes, I do.
J.R.: I see. Let's go then.

I realize that I've changed the punctuation – some might call that a foul. However, in conversation, you wouldn't hear the dash, although Linda might insert a pause just before she clarifies why she needs to go.

2

I need to go buy food is definitely acceptable in casual, spoken North American English. I am not sure about British English, though. Such a statement often includes and, for example I need to go and buy food, in the same manner as Please try and come does.

Bill's answer is great, except that I am going to buy food does not have the exact same nuance as I need to go (and) buy food: the former shows intention, while the latter shows necessity.

As far as a more formal, grammatically-correct version of the latter, I like Bill's example sentences using must and have to.

2

To go buy food is not normal British English, but, as other answers have said, it seems to be used in American English. Speakers of British English would say I need to go and buy some food or simply I need to buy some food.

  • Would "I need to buy some food" imply the need of leaving between few minutes? – kiamlaluno Feb 25 '13 at 15:25
  • 1
    Not necessarily. I might say 'I need to buy some food, but I don't have to go straightaway.' – Barrie England Feb 25 '13 at 16:00

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