Les courses

I discovered yesterday that French equivalents of ‘to go shopping’ or ‘to do the shopping’ are faire des courses or faire les commissions, which also mean ‘to run errands’. These expressions were new to me because when in French I’ve either stayed with families or in hotels and have never had to do or talk about such activities.

According to Reverso (to go) shopping (for food/groceries) is (faire) les courses, but shopping as a leisure activity is le shopping. In English you might say, ‘I am doing the shopping’ = I am shopping for food/groceries, but ‘I love shopping’ might refer to the leisure aspect of the activity. Do you make this distinction?

Related expressions include:
– partir faire les magasins = to go on a shopping expedition/trip
– les courses alimentaires = food shopping
– liste des courses = shopping list
– achat en ligne = online shopping
– centre commercial = shopping arcade / precinct / centre / mall
– sac/panier à provisions = shopping bag/basket
– caddie (m) = shopping trolley / cart
– faire du lèche-vitrines = to go window shopping
– faire ses cadeaux de Noël = to do one’s Christmas shopping

One way to practise languages you’re learning is to use them to write shopping lists. I usually write mine in Welsh.

8 thoughts on “Les courses

  1. Les commissions” immediately made me think of Scots “tae go the messages“.

  2. In Swedish we use ”köpa”, which means ”buy”. ”Handla” means to buy groceries or clothes, often something that you have to do. ”Shoppa” on the other hand is to go shopping as a leisure activity.

  3. I grew up in the north of Scotland using ‘getting the messages’ for ‘shopping’. When we moved to the Netherlands I was surprised to learn that ‘de boodschappen’ (lit. ‘the messages’) has the same meaning in Dutch.

  4. Seumas-

    That’s interesting. I have the impression that the original sense of boodschap is an ‘envoy’ or someone sent somewhere to accomplish something. In German, the direct cognate Botschaft means ’embassy’.

    So you can see the basic underlying meaning of ‘errand’ in both meanings. And ‘message’ is originally just something sent forth.


    As for le shopping, that’s a particularly European term in French. In Canada, the usual equivalent is le magasinage, with the related verb magasiner. For a long time, the equivalent of centre commercial was centre d’achats, but an end was put to that in Quebec at least, when some rule maker decided the old term was a calque from English and therefore to be replaced.

  5. In Welsh, too, negesau (literally, “messages”) is the word for (necessity-type) shopping / errands.

  6. Chris,

    In my experience of modern Dutch at least, boodschap is used mostly within the context of a general message to be declared to all, rather than a specific message from one person to another. You hear it mostly in ‘de blijde boodschap’ (the good news/gospel) in church contexts, or if someone is announcing that they have had a child etc.

    For a specific message from one person to another, ‘bericht’ is used far more.

    Apparently the Old English (pre 1100) equivalent of ‘boodschap’ was ‘bodscipe’.


    We are supergeeks.


  7. Language is changing fast and what is new today is old tomorrow. In contemporary French “faire les commissions” or “faire du lèche-vitrine” are slightly old fashioned. Today we say “faire les courses” or “aller au supermarché” and that’s it. Another typical expression of today’s language is “faire deux trois courses”.

  8. Actually forget what I said about Dutch – I asked my colleagues, who said that boodschap and bericht aren’t as easy to separate as that.

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