Containers

Containers

Sometimes it seems that all of life is taking things out of one container and putting them in another. Below I’ve tried to group containers into categories. There is some overlap. Some containers are mentioned in more than one category.

The vocabulary of containers changes from place to place. On this page, I am using the words that I am familiar with. Other countries, or even other parts of Canada, may use different terms.

For all pictures, click to see a larger image.

Containers You Might Find in a Store

Basket – Traditionally, Baskets are open containers woven from stiff fibres. Four styles of household baskets
  • Shopping basket or Grocery basket – Made from plastic and used to carry grocery items. If you have too many items to carry, you will need to use a shopping cart.
  • Laundry basket – A plastic basket used to carry laundry to and from a washing machine, laundry room, or laundromat.
wicker baskets
A blue shopping basket A cat named Pouncer sitting in a laundry basket
shopping basket laundry basket

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Bins – Bins are similar to baskets. They are open containers used to hold a collection of items. They may be made of plastic or metal. A Bin of Sweaters
  • Store bin – A store may use bins to hold some kinds of merchandise, such as socks, yarn, or loose spools of thread.
  • Desk bin – A small basket/bin used to hold loose items like paper clips, pens, pencils, tape, etc.
sweater bin
Grocery store bins Small bins inside a desk drawer
grocery bins desk bins

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Carton

food cartons

  • Cartons for Food – There are many type of food boxes made from paperboard which is also commonly called “cardboardTechnically, these boxes are cartons. However, most people just refer to them as ‘boxes’.
  • Milk and Juice carton – Made from paperboard coated with polyethylene, a kind of plastic.
  • Egg carton – Traditionally made of molded pulp, but may also be made out of plastic.
  • Carton of cigarettes – A carton of cigarettes is 10 packs of cigarettes sold together.
  • Carton of beer – Also called a case of beer. A carton / case of beer is 24 cans or bottles of beer sold together.
  • Other beverages – Wine also comes in cartons and cases (6 bottles and 12 bottles), but most people don’t buy that much wine at once, so I suggest that you don’t bother memorizing this one. Other than milk, orange juice, beer and wine, I can’t think of any other beverages that come in cartons.
Egg cartons Carton of cigarettes
egg carton carton of cigarettes

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Case (collection) – A collection of items packaged together. Often used with 12 or 24 cans or bottles sold together.

  • Really, ‘case’ refers to the drinks, not the container. For example, a case of beer comes in a beer carton, but the word ‘case’ is often used to refer to the packaging.
  • A case can also be used to organize or keep related things together. For example:
    • a briefcase can hold files, folders, and other related items.
    • A suitcase contains clothes
    • A bookcase holds books
    • Computer case, also called a computer console, or sometimes a computer tower.
A case of soda Several cases of water Two cases of beer
soda water beer

Case (contains a single item)

  • CD/DVD case – Thin plastic box that usually holds a single CD or DVD.
  • A pillow case goes over top of a pillow.
  • A laptop case is a small bag with padding in it that fits over a laptop to protect it.
A case for a CD or DVD A pencil case A laptop case
CD case pencil case laptop case

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Hand Pump – This is not really a container. It’s a little device on top of some containers for getting liquid out. But the term ‘hand pump’ is sometimes used to refer to the whole thing, container and all.

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Jug – A container for liquid. It has an opening, often narrow, from which to pour or drink, and nearly always has some kind of handle.

  • In Canada, you can buy a liter of milk in a carton or four liters of milk in a plastic jug.
  • Also, if you buy more than a liter of juice, it usually comes in a jug.
  • Cleaning products may come in a jug, such as a jug of bleach, or a jug of laundry detergent

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Pack

  • A few small paperboard container are referred to as a ‘pack’. For example, a pack of cigarettes or a pack of playing cards, also referred to as a ‘deck’ of playing cards
  • A cloth container that you wear may be called pack, such as a fanny-pack or a backpack. A backpack is sometimes referred to as a ‘napsack’.
  • Ice pack – A flexible plastic container filled with a type of gel. Ice packs are frozen and then used to keep food cool or to reduce pain. Ice packs may also be made from wrapping ice cubes in a small towel.

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Roll – A roll is not really a container, but I’m including it anyways. Some kind of paper is wound around a cardboard tube. For example: a roll of toilet paper or a roll of wrapping paper. Tape also comes on a roll.

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Tin – A metal container for holding cookies or biscuits.

Tin (garbage) I am going to describe how the term ‘tin can’ is used in Canada. Other parts of the world may not use this expression.

Lots of food comes in a can: a can of soup, a can of corn, a can of beans, etc. When the container is filled with food, it is called a ‘can’. After the container has been emptied, it is often referred to as a ‘tin’ or a ‘tin can’, especially if it garbage.

For example: “While I was driving, I saw a lot of tin cans along the side of the road. I wish that somebody would clean them up.”

Fish container – An exception to the common use of ‘can’ and ‘tin’ is metal containers for fish. They are often referred to as tins. For example: a tin of sardines.

Trivia: Tin containers are made of tinplate which is tin-coated steel. Cans are also made aluminum or other metals are usually referred to as tin cans as well.

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Tub

  • A large round container without a lid, typically used for washing.
  • A plastic or paper food container, typically with a lid. May be small or large, but usually ‘tub’ implies a large container

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Tube – A container that is long, round, and hollow. A tube is usually, but not always, soft and squeezable. Tube containers are used to hold thick liquids such as toothpaste.

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Tupperware – Tupperware is a brand of food container. You buy the container by itself and then put food in it. For example, you might use a Tupperware container to store leftovers. Similar food containers made by brands other than Tupperware are usually referred to as ‘Tupperware’ as well.

Ziplock – A brand of reusable, re-sealable plastic zipper storage bags. These bags are usually used to store food. For example, if you have used half of a tomato, you might want to store the other half in a ziplock bag and use it tomorrow. Even similar bags made by other companies are commonly referred to as ‘ziplock bags’

Trivia: ‘Tupperware’ and ‘Ziplock’ are examples of a type of product becoming known by the name of a specific company. This has happened to many other products as well. For a list of products that are referred to by a brand name instead of by the product’s generic name, see Wikipedia’s page List of generic and genericized trademarks

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Containers You Might Find in a Your Home or Office


Case (collection) – A collection of items packaged together. Often used with 12 or 24 cans or bottles packaged together.

  • Really, ‘case’ refers to the drinks, not the container. For example, a case of beer comes in a beer carton, but the word ‘case’ is often used to refer to the packaging.
  • A case can also be used to organize or keep related things together. For example:
    • a briefcase can hold files, folders, and other related items.
    • A suitcase contains clothes
    • A bookcase holds books
  • Computer case, also called a computer console, or sometimes a computer tower.

Case (contains a single item)

  • CD/DVD case – Thin plastic box that usually holds a single CD or DVD.
  • A pillow case goes over top of a pillow.
  • A laptop case is a small bag with padding in it that fits over a laptop to protect it.

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Cooler – An insulated box used to keep food or drinks cool.

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Dispenser

  • Some restaurants have hand pumps mounted to the bathroom counters or walls. These are often referred to a “soap dispensers“.
  • Dispensers may also hold rolls of material such as paper towels or tape.

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Mug – A sturdily built type of cup often used for drinking hot or cold beverages, such as coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or beer. Mugs, by definition, have handles and often hold a larger amount of fluid than other types of cup.

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Thermos – An insulated drink container for keeping hot liquids hot.

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Tub

  • A large round container without a lid, typically used for washing.
  • A plastic or paper food container, typically with a lid. May be small or large, but usually ‘tub’ implies a large container

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Holders – Everything in the Holders section below may be found in the home or office.

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Holders

I’m not sure if all of the items in this category qualify as containers, but I’m going to include them anyways.

Bins – Bins are similar to baskets. They are open containers used to hold a collection of items. They are usually made of plastic.

  • Store bin – A store may use bins to hold some kinds of merchandise, such as socks, yarn, or loose spools of thread.
  • Desktop bin – A small basket/bin used to hold loose items like paperclips, pens, pencils, tape, etc.

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Cabinet – Usually a box-shaped piece of furniture made of wood, metal, or plastic, either standing alone or attached to a wall. Cabinets are used for storage of related items such as washroom items, dishes or documents.

  • Medicine cabinet, Also known as a bathroom cabinet – A small shelving unit attached to the wall above the sink or toilet. Often, the cabinet has a mirror on the front that swings open like a door.
  • Filing cabinet – A piece of office furniture usually used to store paper documents in file folders.
  • Kitchen cabinet Also called ‘cupboards’ (like a board that you put cups on). They hold cups and other dishes. Note: the spelling and pronunciation of ‘cupboard’ are very different. The ‘p’ is silent and the second syllable sounds like ‘bird’ – cuh-bird

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Kit – A collection of supplies and equipment. The container could be anything. For example, a sewing kit or a first aid kit.

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Tray – A flat holder that things lie on. For example, a printer has a printer tray that holds paper. Sometimes a tray will have slots or spaces in it that are shaped like the things that are supposed to go there. For example, a cutlery tray may have spaces that are shaped like a fork, spoon, and a long narrow space for butter knives.

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Rack – Used to organize things, such as spices, tools, clothes. Usually things hang from a rack, but sometimes they sit on a rack.

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Roll – Some kind of paper is wound around a cardboard tube. For example: a roll of toilet paper or a roll of wrapping paper. Tape also comes on a roll.

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Waste Containers

– The words for waste containers can be confusing because sometimes there are different words for the same container. Which word is used may change from person to person. I am going to be using words that are common to Canada and the United States.

Dumpster – The very large containers that the garbage trucks pick up and dump. Sometimes referred to a “garbage bins”. ‘Dumpster‘ is another genericized trademarks.

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Curbside Cans and Bins – ‘Curbside‘ means that you take these containers out to the curb. A garbage truck comes around and a city worker empties the can/bin into the back of the truck.

  • Trash can – A round container with a lid made of tin, steel or plastic. Usually, the lid is not attached to the container.
  • Trash bin – Almost always made of plastic. It has a boxy shape and the lid is usually attached to the container. A trash bin may also have wheels.
  • Recycling bin – A recycling bin is really any box-like container this is used for recycling. The term ‘recycling box’ is sometimes used.

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Inside the Home or Office

  • – Garbage containers inside the home or office are usually referred to “garbage can” or “garbage bin”. The two terms have come to mean the same thing. Containers for recycling are usually referred to as “recycling bin”.
  • – Often the container is not mentioned at all. A person might say, “Please put this in the garbage“, meaning that it should go in the garbage can/bin. Similarly, a person might refer to “the recycling”.
  • Before recycling bins became common, another term for garbage can/bin was “wastepaper basket”. Nobody really uses this term anymore, but you might see it in a book written more than ten years ago.

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Containers Used in Transportation


Barrel – A large cylindrical container used of storage of liquids. May be made of wood, plastic, aluminum, or steel.

  • Water barrel – Sometimes used to collect rainwater as it falls off of a roof so that the water may be used for irrigation or other purposes. In this case, the barrel is being recycled.
  • Wine barrel – Also called a ‘cask’. Wine is sometimes aged in wooden barrels. Of course, the barrels can be used for transportation as well.
  • Barrel of oil – Also known as an ‘oil drum’. For oil, the steel container is called a drum. ‘Barrel’ is actually a unit of measurement. However, both words are used to refer to the container.

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Crate – Used to transport large, heavy or awkward items. A crate has a self-supporting structure. What makes a crate different from a box is that it is made of sturdy material. Often a box is made of cardboard and a crate is made of wood or plastic.

  • Shipping crate – Usually made from wood and usually large.
  • Food crate – Usually made from wood with open areas on the side so that air can reach the food.
  • Milk crate – Square or rectangular interlocking boxes made out of heavy-duty plastic. The most common type of milk crate holds four 4-liter jugs of milk.
  • Animal crate – A metal, wire, or plastic container with a door. They are used for transporting animals.

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Keg– A kind of barrel. It is commonly used to store, transport, and serve beer.

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Tank – A container, usually for holding liquids, sometimes for compressed gases. A large vehicle that transports liquids is called a tanker. For example, an “oil tanker” is large ship for transporting oil. Trucks that transport liquids in a large tank are just called ‘tankers’. For trucks, the specific liquid is usually not listed.

  • Water tank – Stores water, usually for human consumption.
  • Storage tank – Stores non-flammable liquids other than water.
  • Fuel tank – A safe container for flammable liquids such as oil.
  • Gas tank – Part of an engine system on a vehicle.
  • Pressure tank – A safe container for pressurized gas, such as propane.

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(page last updated September 24, 2009)

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