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.