I’m French. Could somebody explain to me the difference between the terms 'errands' and 'shopping'?
"Errand" is a more overarching term that describes a (mostly simple) task that needs to be done. That task may be to buy something, but it doesn't have to. It could also be, for example, to deliver a message to somebody or to fetch something at some place. Typically, an errand involves that you go somewhere. So, to go to a doctor's office to make an appointment would probably be an errand, but to call the doctor's office on the phone wouldn't.
I have three errands to take care of today: I need to bring my sisters the invitation to the birthday party, I need to pick up the clothes from dry cleaner, and I need to buy candles for the birthday cake.
"Shopping", of course, is to buy something, or to look for something you might want to buy.
Errands are any sort of task that you might be sent out of home (or your workplace) to do. It could be a shopping task, but it could be almost anything else too.
In my dialect (Dublin), the word used was "messages".
We kids were often sent out "to do the messages" or "on a message". It was almost (but not quite) always some sort of shopping task.
In lots of English dialects (but not mine) you might often hear of people "running errands for" someone else.
The Merriam-Webster definition is a good one.
So is the very differently worded Cambridge definition:
A possible difference could be that between the general and the particular. An errand is any short trip to do a job or task for someone. Shopping for someone else is one kind of errand. Other types of errand are possible, such as taking a message, finding something out, collecting something from somewhere, etc.
In America, we have the expression "to run errands" which I learned was a totally bizarre concept to the Europeans whom I interacted with when I lived there.
The reason was quite apparent: Europeans live in communities where all essential service providers are generally located within walking distance, whereas Americans jump into their SUVs and spend a significant portion of their day racing across town, hoping to accomplish everything necessary for our hectic lives in one go, so that maybe we can rest tomorrow. It rarely works out (resting, I mean).
Errands, therefore, are a mostly a product of the automobile-centric suburban lifestyle.
Whereas a European may walk to the shop for bread and milk, then walk home, stopping at the corner pharmacy on the way, then later head to the ATM across the street to get money to take to the doctor at the polyclinic on the next block over, then walk home again, then in the evening head out to grab a sack of potatoes from the vendor selling them out of the back of a van in the alley... this could never happen in America.
In America, we make a plan for the day, grab the credit card and dart around town on a mission to tackle a multitude of objectives:
- Go shopping for groceries
- Make a deposit at the bank and get something notarized
- Stop by the Post Office to mail a package
- Take money from the ATM at another bank
- Pick up a prescription at the pharmacy
- Visit the mall to pay the credit card bill
- Drop off the kids at soccer practice
- Haul the recyclables over to the transfer station
- Get a key copied at the hardware store
- Go pay licensing fee at the DMV (department of motor vehicles)
- Drop by the tax preparer with the receipts from last year
- Swing by the carwash (ie, take the car to the carwash)
- Visit Goodwill to donate old clothes
- Meet up with a friend for lunch (see below)
- Get gas for the lawnmower
- Pick up the popcorn popper from the appliance repair center
- Swing by the self-storage facility to grab the bicycles
- Pick up the dry cleaning
- Stop by the farmers market for some fresh strawberries
- Head down to the docks to see if the battery charger is on the boat
- Drop by the library to return the books
- Visit the insurance office to see about adding a motorcycle policy
- Hit up the liquor store for some rare Scotch
- Drop in on Grandma at the retirement home just to say hi
- Head over to the paint store to pick up swatches for the basement rehab
- Take the car in for an oil change
- Run to the laundromat to get the bedspread washed
- Take back the carpet cleaner to the rental place
- Grab Chinese takeout for dinner
A busy day indeed, and I'm sure I forgot something!
What I wouldn't typically include on the list, however, are trips where there is no "getting" or "putting" happening. Taking the family to a restaurant, for instance, or going to see the doctor, or visiting a salon are generally not errands. One exception might be when meeting people without a set appointment, for example meeting someone for lunch because you plan to be in the area.