“Sale” vs. “Sell”: It Pays To Know The Difference

text: sale vs. sell

Sale and sell sound pretty similar and they’re used in all the same contexts. Adding to the potential confusion is that sell can be both a verb and a noun—a noun whose meaning can be very similar to sale.

In this article, we’ll define many of the different senses of sale and sell, break down their differences, explain where their meanings can overlap, and provide example sentences showing the several ways each word is used. Not to oversell it, but this is your one-stop shop for all things sale and sell. Pay attention—there will even be a quiz.

Quick summary

Sale is always a noun. It most commonly refers to the act of or an instance of offering things for purchase, a discounting of such things, or a completed transaction. It’s used in phrases like on sale and for sale. Sell is most commonly a verb, but it can also be a noun whose meaning is sometimes very similar to sale, as in It was a tough sell, but we convinced him to buy.

What’s the difference between sale and sell?

Sale is always used as a noun. It has several common meanings:

  • The act of offering things (goods or services) for purchase: the sale of merchandise
  • A specific instance of doing so: bake sale; yard sale
  • A completed transaction: I made my first sale.
  • A quantity sold (often used in the plural): Sales are down this quarter.
  • A price reduction event: They’re having a 20% off sale.

The phrase on sale most commonly means “being sold at a reduced price,” but it can also be used more generally to simply mean “available for purchase,” which is what the phrase for sale means.

Sell is most commonly used as a verb (past tense sold), and it also has a few different meanings:

  • To offer something for sale—to offer it in exchange for money: a store that sells only hats; I might sell my car. The person or business doing the selling is called the seller.
  • To be sold (as in, to be bought): sell a million copies; These always sell well.
  • To persuade or induce someone to buy something: Don’t try to sell me on a more expensive model.
  • Or, more generally, to persuade someone to accept some proposal or idea: She really tried to sell me on the plan.

These last two senses are the ones that are sometimes used in noun form, meaning an act or method of selling, as in It was a tough sell, but in the end I convinced him to upgrade.

A noun sense of sell is used in terms like hard sell.

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Sell or sale: when to use each one

To summarize, sale is always a noun. If you want a verb, always use sell. When you want to refer to an act or method of selling, especially one that involves persuasion and is described by a word like tough, hard, difficult, or easy, use sell.

Examples of sale and sell used in a sentence

Check out these real-world examples of sale and sell used in context.

  • The retail economy is based on the sale of goods.
  • The sale of the car will be finalized as soon as you transfer the money.
  • The annual sale starts tomorrow.
  • Our ice cream sales are up due to the heat wave.
  • We’ve sold six copies already, and we’re likely to sell more.
  • She sells insurance for a living.
  • Bread, milk, and eggs sell well anytime there’s snow in the forecast.
  • This will be a hard sell, but I have faith in our marketing and sales teams.

Take the quiz

Have we sold you yet on the correct ways to use each word? If so, you’re ready to take our quiz on whether to use sell or sale in a sentence. We think you’ll be on top of their uses in no time.

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