Beyond the Rhetoric


Grammar 101: Sale and Sell

September 10th, 2009 by
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Grammar 101: Sale and Sell

They may not sound the same, like how “to” and “too” sound the same, but the words “sale” and “sell” can be a great source of confusion for many people. Which word should be used for what purpose?

This grammar tip suggestion came from Dan Rinnert. He says that he is tired of hearing people use “sale” when they really mean to use “sell” (and vice versa). I have to admit that this can be a big pet peeve for me as well, since the difference between the two words could not be clearer.

Sale is a noun. This means that it functions as an object and it is not an “action” word. There are many different ways that you can use “sale” in a sentence. You can say that a product is for sale, an item is on sale, or a store is having a sale. A sale can be defined as the act of selling, which is an object and not a verb. Sales also refer to events when objects are sold at a reduced price, a single instance of selling something, or an indication that an item is available for purchase.

Incorrect: Best Buy will have my favorite game for sell tomorrow.
Correct: Best Buy will have my favorite game for sale tomorrow.
Alternative: Best Buy will start selling my favorite game tomorrow.

Sell is largely used as a verb. To sell something is to exchange that something for money (or something else of value), offering it for purchase. It can also be used in the context of persuasion: “The engine really sells this car to prospective consumers.” To make matters slightly confusing, “sell” can also be used as a noun in a very specific way. You could say, “The new HST will be a hard sell for the BC government.”

Incorrect: I am going to sale my camera on eBay.
Correct: I am going to sell my camera on eBay.
Alternative: I am going to put my camera for sale on eBay.

As I have mentioned several times in the past, it is important to have good grammar, even if writing is not your primary vocation. Good grammar presents you in the best and most professional light possible. Little nagging errors, like confusing sale for sell, can mean the difference between being well respected and being completely ignored.

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23 Responses to “Grammar 101: Sale and Sell”

  1. Ray Ebersole says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t understand how these two words could ever be confused with one another. They have such different meanings with one being a noun and the other a verb. They don’t even sound right in a sentence that would the other or vice-versa.

  2. EarningStep says:

    sale and sell.. look like i know the different between them.. i actually didn’t understand how to choose or use : on , in , at , of

  3. Essay says:

    I never through about this difference. The correct word just comes into my brain when I speak. 🙂 If we make reading our habit then we will not get confused in these issues.

  4. Just came across this blog from EarningStep and have added it to my reader…looking forward to learning!

  5. dcr says:

    Thanks for the post, and the link!

  6. grammar says:

    sell is a perfect verb.. tats a major difference between sell and sale.. hence u can very well use the above words in your sentence without any confusion.

  7. betshopboy says:

    It would be really helpful if you could do a writeup on the correct usage of “would vs will” and “could vs can”.

  8. […] one of my more recent editions of Grammar 101, Betshopboy asked if I could describe the correct usage of “would” or “will” and when you should use which word. They serve very similar grammatical functions, but the two […]

  9. […] with uncommon words. Even when the pronunciation of the two words is different, as is the case with sale and sell, people still seem to get them […]

  10. […] out there that are easy to understand, because there is no debate as to whether you should use sale or sell, for example. However, there are other instances that stir up all kinds of controversy, because you […]

  11. Whitney says:

    I have a related question to this. I fully understand and TOTALLY agree about the differences and proper use of sell vs. sale. What about “sales price:” vs. “sale price:”? For instance on a product page, the single item is on sale, the template has “Sales price:”… I feel it should read “Sale price:” Would love you all to weigh in. Thanks. (I realize this is an ancient thread, so hopeful to see a reply)

    • Michael Kwan says:

      I’m inclined to agree with you that “sale price” is the preferred term.

      A Google search for “sale price” (in quotes) yields 154M results, while a search for “sales price” yields 74M results. That’s not quite definitive, but it does seem to indicate that “sale price” is used twice as often as “sales price.”

      • Whitney says:

        Thank you! Now, could you please tell my website developer? I can’t find where to go to correct it and apparently they think it isn’t an important enough request to address. LOL
        I appreciate the reply. 🙂

  12. Basil says:

    Rummage Sale or Rummage Sell?

  13. Julius says:

    “Sale” should be the right word, yet I would like to know why “Sales” is not correct or should not be used.

  14. Dazed N. Confused says:

    You fine people seem to be the best ones to assist me with this since you are certain that this is a hard & fast rule.
    My home is for sale & I am eager to sell it. Luckily, I will complete the sale/sell (?) of the home today. Or…I am closing on the sale/sell of my home today.
    I’ve actually read Red Panda, Eats Shoots Leaves by Lynn Truss is one of my favs but I’m stumped on this.
    Oh and as it relates to sales price vs sale price, doesn’t the price belong to the sale? Otherwise it would be regular price. So why isn’t it the sale’s price?

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