What's the difference between "дети бегают по магазину" and "дети бегают в магазине"?

EDIT: If you are about to provide some examples in your answers, please, observe the following requests:

  1. consider only those examples that contain a motion verb (like прыгают, танцуют, летают, etc. - not the verbs like думают, мечтают, находятся, etc.);

  2. avoid using unidirectional verbs (like бегут, плывут, летят, едут, несутся, etc.), use their multidirectional counterparts instead (бегают, плавают, летают, ездят, носятся, etc.)

  3. the noun following the proposition "в" should be in the propositional case ("ходим в магазине"), not in the accusative case ("сходим в магазин")

4 Answers 4


The two meanings are very close, with the "по" hinting at the randomness of the running, while the "в" stressing the location.

My translations of the two phrases to English would be as follows:

Kids are running inside the store. ("в магазине")

Kids are running around the store. ("по магазину")


Rosenthal et al., СППЛР, 199.3

Смысловые различия находим внутри каждой из приводимых ниже пар:

  • гулять в лесу – гулять по лесу: первое сочетание обозначает действие ограниченное (гулять можно на небольшом участке леса), а второе – действие разбросанное (в пределах названного пространства);

which means:

Each of the following pairs exposes semantic differences:

  • гулять в лесу – гулять по лесу: the first phrase defines action confined in space (one can walk in a smaller part of the forest), the second one defining a scattered action (within the limits of the named enclosure)

This difference is more clear if we consider a spatially anisotropic object:

  • идти на улице / идти по улице
  • плыть на реке / плыть по реке

The first sentence may (or may not) suggest that you cross the street or the river, the second sentence strictly assumes that you move along the street or the river.

However, which is more important, is that по unequivocally makes the noun the direct object of the verb, while в / на may imply an adverbial clause будучи:


  • Спортсмены бегают в зале // The sportsmen are running in the gym
  • Спортсмены бегают по залу // The sportsmen are running over the gym.

The first sentence may imply that they are, say, running on the treadmills, while being in the gym.

The second sentence cannot have this meaning.

  • I believe that the first paragraph answers the question. Could you please translate it into English?
    – Olga
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 15:04
  • @Olga: few respect Rosenthal as much as I do, however, I have a strong feeling that the rhematic role is much more important distinction. Ходить по лесу does not necessarily imply ходить по всему лесу (though всему can only be added to по indeed).
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 15:38
  • 2
    I am going to strongly disagree with Rosenthal here: "гулять в лесу" does not at all strike me as "walking only in some small section of the forest", neither "гулять по лесу" would necessarily imply a "scattered kind of walking" to me. "идти на/по улице" and "плыть на/по реке" are absolutely irrelevant to my question and shed no light on the matter (plus, I don't know in what possible situation I would say "плыть НА реке" - it sounds wrong to me). Also, "Я ходил по Испании" doesn't mean "I walked all over Spain". "Я ходил по ВСЕЙ Испании" does.
    – brilliant
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 16:28
  • let us continue this discussion in chat
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 19:20

Use of по assumes the importance, in the context, of the spatial extent of the place. Быть в магазине simply means that a person is within a shop and nowhere else. The shop is considered a point in space. Ходить по магазину assumes that the shop has some extent and one needs some time to traverse it. Compare also:

Пожалуйста, сходи в магазин.


Давай пройдёмся по магазинам.

The first sentence emphasizes the way to the shop while the second one the process of shopping, being in the shops or going from one to another.

  • There are homonymous but different prepositions in в магазин and в магазине. Compare Ukrainian до магазину / в магазинi.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 15:45
  • "Быть в магазине simply means that a person is within a shop and nowhere else" - Why do you consider "Быть в магазине" in the first place? My question is not about "быть в магазине", but rather "бегать по магазину". "быть" is not an action verb, but "бегать" is. Plus, both "бегать по магазину" and "бегать в магазине" imply that there is some space in the store.
    – brilliant
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 16:39
  • @Quassnoi: This is true, however the difference in the meanings of the two sentences remains. In one case we have a point in space---the shop. We can be in it or go to it but we don't care about its size. In the other, the speaker in concerned with something which assumes physical extension. If you like, compare: на перекрёстке в поле поверните направо vs. пройдите по полю.
    – texnic
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 21:48
  • @brilliant: Because these two phrases assume this meaning. An announcement might state e.g.: В магазине запрещено кататься на роликах, находиться с животными и бегать. Here it only matters that you are inside the shop, not outside. The shop is a point in space. The phrase не бегайте по магазину has the same final meaning, but implies a different idea of the action. So in your question, I would explain the difference as I did. Another example would be пройтись по улице vs. находясь на улице. Or во поле берёзка стояла vs. по полю танки грохотали.
    – texnic
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 21:56
  • @texnic - "Another example would be пройтись по улице vs. находясь на улице" - Irrelevant to my question! "пройтись" is absolutely different from "находясь". "находясь" is not a verb of motion and doesn't imply any action. Please use examples with the same verb in both sentences! And also prepositions should be only "по" and "в" (not "по" and "на")!
    – brilliant
    Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 2:34

I'm not sure but I think there is no much difference. Although probably "дети бегают в магазине" is to say where the children are (in the shop), while "дети бегают по магазину" is more like to say what the children are doing (running) and, especially, doing something wrong or unpleasant. Like "Я бегаю по магазину в поисках чего-либо" means that I going round between shop desks to find something. Also "не бегай по коридору" would be used to stop a child from running at all, while "не бегай в коридоре" is better to ask a child to find another place than corridor for running in (like street or so on).

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