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Store names & possessive

What is the correct grammar for saying that I worked for a chemists (that is, a shop that sells medicine)?

Is it

I worked in a chemist


I worked in a chemists

or perhaps

I worked in a chemist's


Had I been working for multiple different chemists, would it be correct to say

I worked for chemists during my first two years of university

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In America, the correct wording is, "I worked in a pharmacy" or "I worked in a drug store." :-) You can also say "I worked at ..." or "I worked for ..." –  Jay Sep 27 '12 at 20:29
Jay: this is one of those differences between American English and British English. In the UK, the word chemist would be correct in this context. –  Tristan Sep 27 '12 at 22:23
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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Matt Эллен, tchrist, waiwai933 Oct 2 '12 at 4:52

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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I worked in a chemist

Er, no: that would be rather uncomfortable for both of you!

I worked in a chemists

Chemists is a plural noun, so a chemists can't be correct.

I worked in a chemist's

This is an example of ellipsis: "I worked in a chemist's [shop]". Using the possessive is entirely correct.

I worked for chemists during my first two years of university.

This is correct: chemists is a plural noun, indicating that you had more than one employer/mentor.

Store names & possessive deals with people's names, not shop types.

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Of course, the problem with the sentence I worked for chemists during my first two years of university is that it's ambiguous, even in BrE. One of my friends worked for chemists when he was a student. But they were professors of Chemistry, not pharmacists or pharmacologists. There are also industrial chemists who are neither pharmacists nor pharmacologists. I wonder whether it's also idiomatic to say I worked at a chemist's in BrE. Prepositions aren't equal across the Pond. Just curious because I don't know. –  user21497 Sep 28 '12 at 5:59
@B True; if we were definitely talking about chemists in a chemist's shop then pharmacists might be a better word. As regards at, it's not idiomatic but would not be misunderstood either. In implies some involvement; at implies a certain level of detachment, from simply not enjoying the job, all the way to the extent of being, say, an electrician working at the shop. –  Andrew Leach Sep 28 '12 at 7:09
For many years the UK company Boots has used the tag line "Boots the chemist", but earlier they clearly use "Boots the chemists": Advertisement from 1911 and old store fronts. Does that mean it used to be correct to say "I worked in a chemists" ? –  jamesj629 Sep 28 '12 at 8:43
@A Thank you for the explanation. I don't how many AmE speakers are able to explain preposition choices that way. I can come up with some definitely ad hoc explanations based on the meaning of the preposition, but some idiomatic usages just don't seem to fit the meaning well at all. Your explanation of this usage seems rational and not at all ad hoc. –  user21497 Sep 28 '12 at 8:44
@jamesj629 No. Chemists in "Boots the Chemists" is describing the people: there are more than one chemist. There was more than one Boot as well, so it's not "Boot's". –  Andrew Leach Sep 28 '12 at 9:16
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