Listener Question: To Ship vs. To Deliver

We recently got a great question from a Culips listener via email (Thanks Ana!), so I thought I’d share my answer here, in case other people are wondering about the same thing.

Ana wanted to know more about the verbs to ship and to deliver, and the differences between the two. This is a great questions, especially these days, when ordering things online is becoming so common!

The verbs to ship and to deliver have similar meanings, but there are some small differences. However, in some situations, people use them as synonyms, so it can get confusing.


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To ship

To ship something means to cause it to be transported by someone else. For example, if you move to another country, you can ship your clothes there by sending them through the mail. You’re not the one transporting the clothes yourself, but you are causing them to be transported by paying the post office to do it for you. To ship something usually means to send it somewhere by getting someone else (like a company) to transport it for you.

The verb to ship is usually only used to talk about transporting something over a long distance, such as from one city to another, or across the ocean. If something doesn’t need to be transported very far, you can instead say that you have it delivered or get it delivered. For example, you could get flowers delivered to your mother on her birthday by calling a flower shop in your town and placing an order.

So this brings us to the verb to deliver

To deliver

To deliver something means to take something that somebody gives you and transport it to someone else. So you are the one who ships your clothes to another country, and the postal service delivers them. Even though you’re shipping the clothes, you aren’t delivering them, because you’re not the one who’s actually moving them. Similarly, when you get flowers delivered to your sweetheart, a flower shop employee is the one who delivers them.

When to ship and to deliver are used as synonyms

Sometimes these verbs are used interchangeably. For example, the website of a company that sells chocolates online might say “We’ll ship to anywhere in the world.” But it could also say, “We’ll deliver to anywhere in the world.” This is because the chocolate company might pay someone else to transport the chocolates (that is, the company ships them), or the company might have employees who transport the chocolates themselves (so the company delivers them).

But companies sometimes also say that they deliver even if they pay another company to do it.

Using to ship and to deliver in your daily life

When it comes to normal people (not companies), you should only say that you’re delivering something if you’re actually carrying the object from one place to another yourself. If somebody else transports the object for you, then you’re shipping it or having it delivered.

I hope this explanation is helpful. It’s definitely one of those things that can be confusing in English! If there’s anything about these verbs that’s still unclear to you, let me know in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to clear it up.