What is the difference in meaning between Purchase and Order?

Is there a preference for Purchase vs. Order in some cases/regions/dialects etc.

Specifically in e-shops, when should we use purchase and when order?

When should we use them as a verb, and when as a noun?

  • 1
    This is a general reference question. Please check a good online dictionary. A good starting point is OneLook.com.
    – MetaEd
    Feb 12, 2013 at 16:57
  • @MετάEd, I don't think a dictionary would give me such explanations and use cases as much as these good answers I've got here. OneLook.com did not provide me with even good enough definitions. Feb 12, 2013 at 20:08
  • Relevant definitions from the top OneLook result: purchase (v): buy; purchase (n) the act of buying. order (v): request to be supplied with; order (n) a commission or instruction to buy, sell, or supply something.
    – MetaEd
    Feb 12, 2013 at 20:21

5 Answers 5


Purchase means to buy or acquire something. If you walk down the street, pop into your local BestBuy store and buy a computer, you can say that you purchased a computer. Order means that you request, book or reserve something. In some cases you wouldn't be charged for the item until it's been shipped to you. In AmE, I can't speak for BrE, if you buy something online, you place an order for it. You could very well say you purchased something from Amazon, but that wouldn't be that common as the other one.

That said, in todays online world, the two would seem interchangeable and wouldn't make a big difference unless you were an orthodox.


In US usage they can have different meanings. In connection with commercial transactions, order means

[with object] request (something) to be made, supplied, or served: my friend ordered the tickets last week

This may or may not indicate a completed transaction. Sometimes you want to consider a purchase and the goods are not in stock. The shop might order the product so that it is available for you to consider at a later date. Even the shop may not be purchasing the goods since they may be on consignment.

Purchase is a completion of a transaction

acquire (something) by paying for it; buy:

At times, the placing of an order may invovle a purchase, but that depends on the circumstances of the relationship.

The noun forms of each verb have comparable meanings and the choice of word form is a question of style.

  • If I could I would accept both yours and Noah's answers. I would accept his because of the more votes. Feb 14, 2013 at 10:39

In general, you would not use order as a verb if you walked through a store, selected items from the shelf, and took them to a cash register to pay. The verb order is used when a customer requests something for purchase (e.g., we can order a book from Amazon, or order a meal at a restaurant). However, order can be (and is) used as a noun in the point-of-sale environment. For example, a supervisor might say to a cashier:

When you're done with that order, close your register, and go help Tom in the back.

For some reason, purchase a book on Amazon sounds find to me, but purchase a meal at a restaurant sounds decidedly less familiar than order a meal at a restaurant, although I'd hardly call purchase inaccurate or ungrammatical in that context.

  • 2
    I think it's because a meal doesn't last long, whereas "purchase" seems to have a connotation of "property" which implies you purchased something that is going to last long. You usually don't consider meal as something you own since whether it did or not will become irrelevant a few minutes/hours after purchase. But I don't have sources for this, just a possible explanation.
    – Thomas
    Feb 12, 2013 at 18:13

While it is true that, because of the (so to speak) mechanics of online commerce, the two can often be used interchangeably, there is a difference in what the terms represent. Ownership officially changes with a purchase; but not necessarily with an order.

An order is the result of a performative verb to order. If I order you to shut the door (assuming all the felicity conditions for ordering are true), then you have an order to shut the door -- but I do not yet have a shut door -- once again assuming the context is felicitous, I can expect to have it soon, but I don't have it yet.

In a commercial context, the customer orders (in the particular commercial sense) the merchant to deliver a product, in return for payment. The customer pledges the payment, and the merchant pledges the product, but this is still at the pledging stage; nothing needs to change hands in an order, except by pre-arranged convention. Both sides can expect the pledges to be redeemed in the future; but not yet.

Purchase, on the other hand -- a higher-register term for buy -- refers to the entire Commercial Transaction Frame. If I purchase something, then I have already paid for it, reserved it, and own it. It may or may not be in my physical possession -- it might be in for repair, or not delivered yet, or loaned to a museum -- but it's mine and I possess it already.


They can generally be used interchangeably. I believe the preference is using purchase as a verb and order as a noun.

Interchangeable verb: "I am going to purchase|order some tea."

Interchangeable noun: "Thank you for your purchase|order."

Not interchangeable (noun vs verb):

"I would like to place an order for both black tea and green tea."


"I would like to purchase both black tea and green tea."

"I would like to add items to my order."


"I would like to purchase additional items."

To make things more confusing, there is a concept called "Purchase Order" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purchase_order

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