Shop & Shopping English

Shop & Shopping English

“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.”

Erma Bombeck, an American humorist

In this post we’ll look at vocabulary related to different kinds of shops and shopping, including common idioms.

To begin with, what exactly is a shop? If you think it’s just (1) a building where you can buy something, you are right, but there is more to this concept. (2) A shop is also a place where a particular service is offered, and you can refer to a place where things are made or done as a particular kind of shop (3):

1. This product is not available in the shops (storesAmerican English).

2. I need to go to a barbershop to have a clean shave and my hair cut. (Read about the “have something done” construction here.)

3. Take it to a repair shop.


See the presentation for 20 common types of shop:

Of course, there are many other kinds of shops. For example, a sports shop (a shop where sports clothes and equipment are sold), a tea shop (a small restaurant where tea, coffee, cakes, sandwiches, and light meals are served), a hardware/DIY store (a shop where articles for the house and garden such as tools and nails are sold), etc. There are also regional names for certain shops, e.g. the fishmonger/fishmonger’s is a shop where fish is sold. This name is mainly British. A newsagent’s is a shop that sells newspapers and magazines. The term is British English. In America and Canada such shops are called newsstands.

Pay attention to the use of the apostrophe without a noun: fishmonger’s, butcher’s, newsagent’s, etc. We use the apostrophe like this if the meaning is clear (e.g. I’m going to my grandparents’ this weekend) and when we talk about visiting some shops, our dentist and doctor (e.g. I’m going to the dentist’s tomorrow; I need to go to the greengrocer’s*).

*A greengrocer or a greengrocer’s is a shop where fruit and vegetables are sold. The terms are usually used in British English. The American English terms are grocery and grocery store.

Exercise. Henry is leaving a phone message. Add the correct shop names. You don’t need to use one of them.

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Rosie? I’ve lost my shopping list, but I think I’ve got everything. I got some oranges and some onions at the (1) __________. I got a loaf of brown bread at the (2) __________. I couldn’t get your magazine at the (3) __________, because they didn’t have any left. Then I went to the (4) __________ and bought some more aspirin. Then I picked up your new glasses at the (5) __________. Then I remembered the steaks, and I went back to the (6) __________. Anyway, I’ll be in town for the next twenty minutes. Give me a ring if you get this message. Bye!

The answer key is at the bottom of the page.

(The exercise is taken from “Oxford Living Grammar elementary” by Ken Paterson.)


  • To go on a shopping spree – to shop excessively: Going on a shopping spree is a lot of fun for many women. 
  • To shop till you drop – to do a large amount of shopping: I never shop till I drop.
  • To buy a pig in a poke – to buy something without sight or knowledge of it in advance: Shopping online you often buy a pig in a poke. 
  • To pay through the nose – to pay too much for something: In big cities like London you pay through the nose for everything.
  • To shop around – to go to different shops in order to compare the prices and quality of goods or services before you decide to buy them: Prices may vary, so shopping around is a good idea. 
  • Bargain hunter – someone who is looking for goods that are value for money, usually because they are on sale at a lower price than normal: I’m not much of a bargain hunter. If I see something I like, I just buy it. 
  • Value for money (British English) – things sold at a good price: The new store offers value for money.
  • Window-shopping – the activity of looking at goods in shop windows without buying anything: Personally, I find window-shopping depressing. 
  • Cut-price (British English) / cut-rate (American English) – cut-price/rate goods or services are cheaper than usual: If you are after (are trying to find) cut-price clothing, you can pick up some real bargains at this market. 
  • To haggle with somebody over something – to argue with somebody in order to reach an agreement, especially about the price: In this place you’d better be prepared to haggle. 
  • To do a roaring trade – to sell a lot very quickly: This market does a roaring trade on Saturdays, but it’s mainly geared towards tourists (tourists are the main customers), and some of the prices are a rip-off (too high for the value of something). 
  • Impulse buysomething that you buy suddenly and without thinking carefully: These shoes were an impulse buy. I’m usually not an impulse shopper though.
  • To browse – to casually look through things in a shop: We are here not for browsing, we are after a particular buy. 
  • To snap something up – to buy something quickly because it is cheap or is just what you want: Shoppers came to the store to snap up bargains after the holidays.
Shop till you drop?

Answer key: 1. greengrocer’s 2. baker’s 3. newsagent’s 4. chemist’s 5. optician’s 6. butcher’s

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