Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of May 3, 1999
Prepositions--For Sale, On Sale

Oh, how a tiny word can change the meaning of sentence! Prepositions, which we've studied before, have enormous influence on the sense of text. Unfortunately, they are very difficult to learn. Let us take just one example today, that of the difference between "for sale" and "on sale". It may be useful to know the difference if you would like to purchase supplies from an English-speaking distributor.

If something is for sale, you can buy it. If something is on sale, you can buy it at a discount.

Try these examples.

1. Student A: "I need to buy a widget." Student B: "Go to Jumbo. They have them for sale."
2. Student A: "I bought my new skis for 900 Swiss Francs." Student B: "Hah! I got mine on sale for 450 SF!"
3. Often stores perpetually have On Sale signs in their windows, even if the items might not be discounted, and they should be displaying For Sale. Sometimes they will simply show Sale, in which case they imply On Sale.

-R.P. Feymann
1959 APS Meeting

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Created May 3, 1999, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.