For Sale vs. On Sale

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader asks,

When do you use the expression “for sell” instead of “for sale”?

Short answer: Never.

ESL learners must be puzzled when they see ads like these on the Web:

I have a nice Play Station 3 drum set for sell for 35 dollars.

We have a wristband for sell for $100 in the Des Moines, Ames, Carroll, Denison region of Iowa.

Find out if there are other products like yours already for sell.

Cheap Authentic (unused) Cartridges for Sell

Sell is a verb. Sale is a noun. Something that someone wants to sell is “for sale.”

Purebred Border Collie Puppies for Sale

Gently Used Clothing for Sale

Reliable Used Cars for Sale

The expression “on sale” may also present a little confusion to ESL speakers.

Sometimes “on sale” means that items for sale are being sold at a price lower than normal:

Prices slashed: all jump drives on sale at half price

This weekend only: premium mowers on sale at 20% off

When “on sale” is preceded by go, no drop in price is implied. “To go on sale” means “to become available for purchase”:

Ticket packages offer the exclusive ability to select tickets before they go on sale (i.e., before people who don’t have ticket packages are allowed to buy them.)

An iPhone with a Sapphire Screen May Go on Sale Soon (i.e., it may soon be possible to buy an iPhone with a sapphire screen)

When will Google Glass finally go on sale? (i.e., when will Google Glass be available for purchase by consumers?)

“For Sale” and “On Sale” have their uses, but “For Sell” is an unfortunate error.

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12 Responses to “For Sale vs. On Sale”

  • thebluebird11

    Maeve, I don’t want to confuse anyone any more than necessary. If something that has NOT previously been available for purchase (i.e. not for sale) now becomes available for purchase, like tickets for an event, you will expect to pay whatever price they ask or quote). However, if something that has already been available for purchase/sale “goes on sale,” this implies that the price is going to be lower than it was. If something normally sells for $100 and an ad announces that it “goes on sale” starting Sunday, I would expect that if I buy it Saturday I will pay $100, but if I wait until Sunday, the price will be lower.

  • Roberta B.

    “For Sell” is an unfortunate error…..which most likely was written by a non-native speaker of English.

    I agree with bluebird – to “go on sale” also could refer to currently available merchandise, but just not available at the discounted or “sale” price. For Example: All 2014 inventory will go on sale tomorrow at 50% off.

  • Maeve

    Good point. One more trap for the ESL learner.

    Roberta B.,
    I’d like to think that all the examples I found of “for sell” in the context of “for sale” were written by non-native English speakers, but I have my doubts.

  • thebluebird11

    It is possible that many, or most, of the people who use “for sell” are ESL, but of course how would I know for sure, it’s not as if I researched this. I am, however, always fascinated by regional differences in pronunciation, dialects, etc. Native Spanish speakers will often pronounce “sale” as “sell.” Thinking about it a bit more, native Hebrew speakers do the same, and maybe there are native speakers of other languages who also do that. In English, we kind of draw out the “aaaay” sound in sale, whereas Spanish (and Israeli) people will clip it and make the sound shorter, so that it sounds like sell. They also position their tongues further back (on the hard palate) when enunciating the letter L, whereas English speakers tend to have the tip of the tongue right behind their front teeth. So it changes the sound, you know what I mean? I’m sorry I can’t describe it any better, but I can hear it in my head! You can try it yourself LOL

  • venqax

    There is the related issue of “sellable” which I don’t think is even a word, but you see it a lot. As opposed to “saleable” or “salable” which is the word that sellable is, assumedly, mistaken for that you don’t see much at all.

    “I would have garage sale, but I don’t have anything that’s saleable”
    Not “…I don’t have anything that’s sellable”

  • thebluebird11

    …not that I see anything wrong with “sellable.” If you can sell it, it’s sellable. To me there could be a slight difference in nuance between saleable and sellable; I imagine that anything could be sellable, to the right buyer, no matter the condition it’s in; even something broken might be sold to scavenge for parts. However, something that is saleable would be something that is in good enough condition that almost anyone would buy it. I could be wrong; what do you say?

  • venqax

    I don’t think sellable is a word. The sources I checked don’t recognize it. Saleable, or salable (both spellings are listed without any preference anywhere I’ve seen) means “able to be or eligible to be sold”. So there is no need for sellable. It’s really just like “amnetize” which we just dealt with, or “conversate”. Sure, we all know what they are meant to mean, but the words amnesty and converse already exist. Amnetize and conversate don’t and they’re not needed. By anyone.

  • DJ

    Roberta B –

    Or they were raised and schooled in Arkansas. For whatever reason, an incredibly large number of local Craigslist ads cite items “for SELL” and that the owner wants “to SALE” them because…

    The mistake bothers me as much as real estate ads that list houses in ‘quite’ neighborhoods.

    In both cases, I suspect that the widespread use of devices with spell check contributes to the issue. The word they selected is, after all, spelled correctly. It just isn’t the appropriate word.

  • Flintlock

    This is all wrong. Using your own example:
    Sell is a verb. Sale is a noun. Something that someone wants to sell is “for sale.”

    Purebred Border Collie Puppies for Sale

    Gently Used Clothing for Sale

    Reliable Used Cars for Sale
    Each sentence must have a noun and verb. In the examples given above there are no other verbs are used other than the word “Sale” . Using your rule then correct word used must be “sell”.

    A verb is one of the main parts of a sentence or question in English. In fact, you can’t have a sentence or a question without a verb! That’s how important these “action” parts of speech are. The verb signals an action, an occurrence, or a state of being.

  • Maeve

    The words in the examples are not sentences. They are phrases of the sort that are used on signs or in headers.

  • Theresa Humphry

    To Roberta B. I find your reference to being schooled in Arkansas means that Arkansans are not very smart, offensive. And rude.

  • Maeve

    You’re very kind to come to the defense of Arkansans.

    Arkansas and its inhabitants have been the target of negative stereotypes ever since statehood (1836), when the name of the state was still spelled Arkansaw. We’re so used to disrespect that it rolls off like water.

    I was raised and schooled in Arkansas and was blessed with many excellent English teachers, from grade school through high school. They taught me to love poetry, the plays of Shakespeare, and the English language. My Arkansas high school even enabled me to take three years of Latin.

    Every state has residents who have never mastered Standard English. I’m sure that if Roberta B were to research the topic, she’d find plenty of nonstandard spellings in Craigslist ads placed from every state in the Union. To her credit, she does acknowledge that automatic spell-checkers can be the source of unintended spelling errors.

    Sweeping generalities about the intelligence or morality or ignorance of any given group based on the failings of a few are not worth much. They’re not even worth taking offense over.

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