My favorite NY-Times columnist Maureen Dowd who consistently supplies me the material for posting questions in EL&U site begins today’s (December 8) article titled “A Lost Civilization” with the line:

“My college roommates and I used to grocery shop and cook together. The only food we seemed to agree on was corn, so we ate a lot of corn.”

All of Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam-Webster dictionaries register “grocery” as a noun meaning “grocery store (Cambridge),” “grocer’s shop or business (Oxford)” and “(1) grocer’s store, (2) groceries sold by a grocer.” However, none of them lists “grocery” as a verb.

I know a noun are often used as verbs like 'bicycle a trip,' 'pen a letter,' and 'market a new product,' but is “grocery” widely used as a verb meaning ‘to visit a grocery store,’ or simply ‘shop around’?

Is the use of "X-shop" as a verb 'trendy' and universal?

Can I say “I barber shop once a month," "He golf shopped to buy a new club," "She used to barger shops for a lunch," "I sport shopped to buy a new ski wear," "I computer shopped a new i-phone model yesterday," "I book shopped for a Jeffery Archer's paperback yesterday," and "I pawn shopped to loan $300," without being frowned?

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    The verb is two words, "grocery shop", that's all. Dec 9, 2012 at 2:44
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    Shop is the verb; that verb can be modified with a number of qualifiers; e.g., we can window shop, clothes shop, shoe shop, or grocery shop. Just like grocery store refers to a store that sells groceries, grocery shopping refers to a trip where you buy (mostly) groceries.
    – J.R.
    Dec 9, 2012 at 3:40
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    Hyphenation is usual with the participle used as an adjective, but it's not so common with the infinitive. My guess is that these are constructions that arise in oral discourse; when they enter the written language it's usually in semi-formal contexts like Dowd's column; so the usual two-words–to–hyphenate–to–single-word progression gets blurred. Cherry pick/cherry-pick/cherrypick is another example. Dec 9, 2012 at 4:21
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    @Yoichi: In common parlance, we're much happier to use the (gerund?) form grocery shopping (or tchrist's berry picking, kite flying, babysitting). It's a bit peripheral to focus on whether the two words are fused or hyphenated, but you need to note that some such pairs are more common, and thus more flexibly-used than others. Thus, "Will you babysit tonight?", and "Let's just window-shop today!" are "well-received", as you would say. But "Do you want to kite-fly tomorrow?" isn't, for the vast majority of speakers. Dec 9, 2012 at 4:40
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    ...also, as you know, Dowd likes to push at the boundaries of "acceptable usage" sometimes. Most people would speak of shopping for groceries - but that doesn't suit her purposes, since she wants a short verb that she can link using and to another verb cook, before modifying both verbs with together. That extra word together doesn't want to be too far away from the start of its "scope" (or, she doesn't want it to be, depending on how you look at these things! :) Dec 9, 2012 at 4:45

4 Answers 4


It depends what you mean by ‘common’. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 10 records for to grocery shop, and the Oxford English Dictionary has this citation 1979 citation from the Arizona Daily Star:

Volunteers are needed to grocery shop for elderly shut-ins.

There are no records for the string in the British National Corpus.

If you say any of the sentences in your final paragraph, it is by no means certain that you will be understood. Barber shop, as a verb, sounds as if you’re shopping for barbers, an unlikely activity. The verb grocery shop is established, to the limited extent that it is, because shopping for groceries is fairly common. Language exists to meet a need, and there would seem to be even less of a need for a special verb for shopping for golf clubs than there is for shopping for groceries.

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    But at least those people who want to go golf club shopping would expect their activity to be understood. I don't believe enough people go shopping for barbers that we need be concerned about them, but we should spare a thought for those who go shopping for windows! Dec 10, 2012 at 3:14

Grocery shop is a common collocation in which shop is used in the verb sense and grocery is a colloquially back-formed singular of the object of shopping: groceries (groceries being what one purchases at a grocery). The long form would be We used to shop for groceries together.

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    People who go berry picking and kite flying when they really should be babysitting would agree with that analysis.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2012 at 4:09
  • The OED gives the etymology of grocery not as a back-formation from groceries, but as a combination of grocer + the suffix -y. Dec 9, 2012 at 7:50
  • @BarrieEngland That is true; but that refers to grocery in the sense of the grocer's trade or establishment. What the grocer sells is (as the OED also says) groceries : one does not *shop for a grocery. In the collocation grocery shop, the singular is a back-formation. Dec 9, 2012 at 14:14
  • @StoneyB. Understood. Dec 9, 2012 at 15:33

'Grocery' is a noun; 'shop' is the verb, with 'grocery' modifying it, shopping for groceries.

I used to grocery shop and cook.

is used to say that the speaker shopped for food in order to cook it.

If they said:

I used to shop and cook.

it sounds a bit incongruous because the default meaning of 'to shop' is to shop for clothes (and so to shop for clothes and then cook sounds like a lot to do in one sentence.

I went grocery shopping

is the more likely way you'd see the restriction of shopping for food. 'To grocery shop' sounds a little strange by itself (not so common). This is borne out by a gooogle ngram only partially, showing that after 1970 'grocery shopping is much more common, but before 'to grocery shop was more common.

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    The conclusions you draw from your Google Ngram are incorrect. Before 1970, "grocery shop" was a noun, meaning a shop you buy groceries at. It is only recently that "grocery shop" is being used as a verb. See this google ngram for corroboration.. Dec 9, 2012 at 3:14
  • @PeterShor: excellent point...it's hard to make reliable inferences from such searches.
    – Mitch
    Dec 9, 2012 at 5:05

NO, "grocery" is a noun and can't be used as a verb. You could use other words such as shop, purchase, buy, procure among others.

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    "Grocery" in the OP's example sentence functions as an adverb because it modifies the verb "shop" in grocery shop. Were "shop" a noun in this phrase, the noun grocery would be functioning as an adjective because it'd be modifying the noun "shop". I'd never say that '"grocery" is a noun and can't be used as a verb'. We native speakers of English love to verb nouns, so I can imagine some dude saying something like "Hey, let's grocery again, like we did last Sunday, let's grocery again, like we did last week!" Chubby Checkout anyone?
    – user21497
    Dec 9, 2012 at 3:22
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    @BillFranke No, you should not think of grocery as an adverb that modfies shop. As StoneyB wrote, you should think of it as an object complement placed in front of the verb — and therefore a noun. It here works a bit like it does when making verbal nouns like house-sitting and dogcatching and birdwatching, or rum-running or cattle rustlin’ or sheep sheering or wool-gathering. See how those are all noun+verb cast into an -ing form, and meaning something that’s verbing that noun? It is the same thing when going anything shopping: you’re shopping for anything.
    – tchrist
    Dec 9, 2012 at 4:46
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    Modifiers change the meanings of words in many ways. One way is to restrict them, as Dowd has done in the phrase grocery shop. Had she not said used to grocery shop and cook together, the verb "shop" would naturally have been understood to include clothes shopping and other kinds of shopping, but she wanted to restrict the meaning to food-related shopping, probably to make the sentence more cohesive and to focus on her and her roommates' preprandial activities.
    – user21497
    Dec 9, 2012 at 5:22
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    @BillFranke You and I, I think, come from a very different world than tchrist. We're pre-Chomskyans; our fundamental terms are the Parts of Speech, and we employ those to describe functions. tchrist is post-Chomskyan; for him functions are fundamental and have their own terminology, while the POS are employed primarily to classify word-forms. I am coming to believe that although it is hard for me to understand his terminology, it will be easier for the student to understand. Dec 9, 2012 at 5:51
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    user31968: I've come across a law which says otherwise: english.stackexchange.com/questions/9217/… . However, I agree that verbing grocery would be idiosyncratic in the extreme. I do disagree with you, however, when you say "grocery" is a noun. Is particle a noun in particleboard? Is black an adjective in blackboard? Is particle a noun in particle-board? I'd say that the open variant, particle board is as unitary as the other two variants, and should be considered to be a (compound) noun. Grocery-shop is a compound verb. Dec 9, 2012 at 7:24

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