Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

English vocabulary shop purchase buy what's the difference

Have you done any shopping this week?

Did you buy anything when you were out shopping?

Did you know that the words “shop,” “purchase,” and “buy” have different meanings and need to be used in different situations in English?

Today we will show you the detailed differences between the three words and when and where to use them.

Here is the question from our listener.

Hope you are doing great.

I am an international student in Canada pursuing my PhD. I was really disappointed about improvement in my speaking as my goal was perfection, not connection. So, I did not speak a lot in order not to make any stupid mistake during the conversation. But since I started listening to your podcasts (around 2 months ago), I have noticed a huge difference in my speaking skill thanks to your awesome tips in your podcasts, and your motto.

Recently I have gotten a part-time job in a grocery store, and most of the time I open a conversation with customers to improve my listening and speaking. A question came to my mind yesterday, and I would be grateful if you could give me some advice: What is the difference between these three words; Purchase, Shop, and Buy? I have no clue about using them in a right way. Thanks in advance,



These words are similar but each of them has their own use.


  • Purchase: This sounds more professional. For example, in graduate school on the syllabus the professor would write “Please purchase a special notebook for your observations” and it would be less likely that you would see, “Please buy a special notebook for observations” Why? The word “purchase” sounds less personal, more professional, more academic, and more polite.

Use “purchase” for:

-anything in written professional instructions

-often bigger ticket items

-signs in the grocery store such as “Returned Purchases”


Pop quiz:

If I am talking with my roommates about who is going to get the toliet paper would I say “purchase” or “buy”?

You would say “buy.”


  • Buy: It’s a bit more casual, conversational, more personal. It can be used with friends, family, roommates, partners. You also see it in marketing sayings such as,  “Buy 2 and you get the 3rd half off.” This has more of a ring to it than if they used the word “purchase.”


Our listener is working at a grocery store so often she will use “purchase” when talking to the customers, but often will use “buy” too.

Maybe in her written training manual her instructions would say “if a customer purchases an item and wants to return it…” but she could use “buy” when talking with the customers in person.


  • Shop: This is more about looking for something. It’s not the action of putting money into someone else’s hand in exchange for something. Do you like to shop? How much of your shopping has moved online these days?


To summarize:

To shop is what customers do throughout the store when they are putting stuff into their carts  but “buy” or “purchase” is when they come to the register and hand you money.


What questions do you have from today?

Let us know in the comment section below.

  • Badges (1)
  • Badges-1 (1)
  • Badges-2 (1)
  • US_ListenOn_AmazonMusic_button_black_RGB_5X
  • App-Store-Button
  • google-play-badge
  • Badges (1)
  • Badges-1 (1)
  • Badges-2 (1)
  • US_ListenOn_AmazonMusic_button_black_RGB_5X