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Do drop by, swing by, and stop by all have the same meaning? Is there a difference in usage?

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  • Closely related: Difference between “drop on by” and “drop by”
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2018 at 6:41
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    @Mari-LouA, How come this question is CLOSELY related? That question you are referring to is all about using preposition "on" in a phrasal verb "drop by", it's not even similar (although they look alike) albeit the presence of "drop by" in both questions titles.
    – Nemoden
    Aug 15, 2018 at 6:56
  • OK, just related. But "drop by" and "come on by" are compared. I'm not saying the older question is a duplicate.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2018 at 6:59
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    And you could have at least shown some effort in formulating the question, how do we know that you understand the meaning of the expressions listed above? Did you look them up in a dictionary? I could just post the relevant links, and say "ta da!"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2018 at 7:03
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    Again... "how do we know?". Share your efforts in the question itself, not in the comments which can be deleted at a moment's notice.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2018 at 7:14

2 Answers 2

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They can all describe the same action but have slightly different meanings.

When you are traveling somewhere, you can swing by another place by going a little out of your way to stop there for a while.

I can swing by after work.
He swung by here on his way home.

When you are traveling, you can stop by a place by visiting it.

I can stop by after work.
He stopped by here on his way home.

When you are traveling somewhere, you can drop by another place by visiting it briefly.

I can drop by after work.
He dropped by here on his way home.

So as you can grok from the examples, they’re very interchangeable. The difference that exists is in emphasis. “Swinging by” focuses the imagery on the deviation from one’s main route and thus on how the person will eventually need to get going and reach their final destination. “Dropping” and “stopping by” are mostly synonymous, focusing their imagery on the visit itself, but the latter implies a longer visit (or greater willingness to stay longer if needed) than the former.

But, of course, they’re all somewhat informal so people aren’t usually using them with great care; the nuance among them will vary from person to person and from context to context.

Edit: At least one other internet conversation about this includes a Brit’s opinion that “swing by“ is an Americanism—it doubtless derives from swerving one’s car rather than using a vine—and several people’s feeling that they use “drop by” more in reference to calling on someone than, e.g., picking up something at the supermarket. That hasn’t been my experience, but that’s how they use it. I would take “come by” that way, though, since you’re obviously mentioning it to someone who will be waiting there for your visit. Some other discussions here, here, and here, all basically finding that they're mostly interchangeable. One person felt “swing by” intended a briefer visit; another inexplicably felt “stop by” was shorter; a few felt “stop by” was slightly more formal and more appropriate in business contexts.

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    Supporting evidence?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2018 at 7:05
  • Just as a recap, "to swing by" is to take a slight detour to visit a place briefly. "to stop by" - just to visit a place (may be for an extended period of time, but usually a short stop). "to drop by" - on a way of travelling, briefly visit some place. Sounds right?
    – Nemoden
    Aug 15, 2018 at 7:06
  • @Mari-LouA They're infra dig of the OED, except for the unrelated sense of 'swing by' related to using gravity wells to accelerate interplanetary spacecraft. Google shows other forums discussing the issue, but it's just their personal experiences as well. One says that 'swing by' is an Americanism but I think it has more to do with how often one uses an automobile than with regional dialects per se.
    – lly
    Aug 15, 2018 at 7:11
  • @Nemoden Yeah, but the emphasis with 'drop by' is on the visit as well so I'd just clip that to 'to visit a place (usually briefly)'. They're very overlapping senses and it's mostly about emphasis. Wiktionary emphasizes the 'spontaneous' nature of 'dropping by' but I don't really think that's an essential part of the idea. You can, e.g., plan to drop by somewhere.
    – lly
    Aug 15, 2018 at 7:14
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stop by (or in)
Call briefly and informally as a visitor.

drop by/in (Oxford Dictionaries)
Call informally and briefly as a visitor.

swing by (Macmillan)
PHRASAL VERB [INTRANSITIVE/TRANSITIVE] MAINLY AMERICAN
to make a short visit to a person or place

They are pretty much interchangeable.

Is it a problem if I stop/drop/swing by this evening?

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  • See? but those dictionary entries are obviously incomplete since you can stop by the supermarket or a party and they fail to capture the implication of going out of one's way when you opt to say "swing by". Still, thanks for posting the usage that's made it into the sources so far.
    – lly
    Aug 15, 2018 at 8:14
  • @lly "Stop by a supermarket" is slightly different, it's just using a different preposition, you can just as easily say "We need to stop at a supermarket [on our way back]"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 15, 2018 at 8:17
  • But it's not actually different. You're not stopping in the general area of a supermarket; you're paying a short visit there. "Can you pick up some asparagus at the Whole Foods?" "Sure, I'll stop by on my way home."
    – lly
    Aug 15, 2018 at 8:20

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