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Sometimes some girl says: I'm on the market, what does it mean?

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It sounds like she's declaring that she's for sale, but hopefully that's not what she actually meant... –  snailboat Jun 4 at 13:03
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I've always taken it to mean: "I'm single, not currently in a committed dating relationship, and wouldn't mind the chance to start dating a decent guy." I've put several examples in comments below. I'm surprised this meaning seems so puzzling to some native speakers. –  J.R. Jun 4 at 21:00
    
@J.R.: Apparently some native speakers don't significantly distinguish on from in in this precise context. Perhaps that's because fashion/lifestyle magazines, etc., often run features advising people how to successfully put themselves on the market (make themselves attractive to potentially-significant others as "buyers"). They won't run so many features explaining how to psych yourself up to go looking in the market, and how best to make your choice of a prospective mate once you're there. –  FumbleFingers Jun 4 at 22:29
    
@Fumble - Actually, I do distinguish the two. I've heard I'm in the market for an X (where X might even be "new boyfriend"), but the phrase "on the market" with no qualifier means "not dating." I ran it by my wife, too, and she immediately thought the same. "What's it mean when a woman says she's ‘on the market’," I asked. "It means she's looking for a new guy," she replied, unhesitatingly. –  J.R. Jun 5 at 8:00
    
@J.R.: Obviously if you ask any competent native speaker what OP's citation means, you'd get something like that definition. But if you asked If a woman who's looking for a new guy said: "I'm XX the market", which of "on" or "in" is more likely/appropriate?, I think that would be more enlightening. I kinda doubt anyone would ask for the meaning of the on version if they already knew the in version, therefore it makes sense to me that any answer on ELL should focus on the more common form, rather than promote/sanitise the potentially contentious non-standard usage. –  FumbleFingers Jun 5 at 11:55

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You may want to have a look at this question.

Without further context, I would assume that the girl is not seeing anyone at the moment (she is not in a relationship), and she is looking for someone to be in a relationship with.

On the other hand, she may indeed be telling you (on the phone for instance) that she is out shopping. (Thank you Edwin Ashworth!)

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Even with an outdoors market, I would still expect her to say that she was in the market, no? To me, only goods laid out for sale are on the market, not the people who come to buy them. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 4 at 12:05
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As @JanusBahsJacquet says, a product for sale is "on the market". A person at a store is "at the market" or possibly "in the market". I've never heard someone say "I'm on the market" meaning that she is at a store. It always means that she is available for a romantic relationship, i.e. she is comparing herself to a product that is for sale. Now that I think about it, I'm surprised that that phrase hasn't been condemned as sexist and demeaning to women. But I'm sure the origin was a joke. –  Jay Jun 4 at 13:22
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@Jay I think the main reason it hasn’t been condemned as sexist and demeaning to women is that it applies just as much to men—a man can be on the market just as much as a woman can. It is probably sexist, but at least it’s egalitarianly (egalitarianistically?!) sexist. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 4 at 13:25
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@FumbleFingers I’m sorry, but that is simply incorrect. “I’m on the market” is certainly used by speakers to indicate that they themselves are single and available. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re looking for a relationship (that would be in the market [for a relationship]), but it is absolutely used, though possibly more so in AmE than BrE. It does sound like you’re up for grabs at the cattle market, and that’s exactly what it’s meant to say. It’s a bit jocular and it’s definitely colloquial. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 4 at 16:45
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@Fumble - "on the market" means (roughly) "available to start a dating relationship," and generally indicates the person is not dating anyone else. From an article at match.com: the 40-something singles scene is flooded with divorced folk who are back on the market. From a UK Daily Mail headline: Real Housewives star LuAnn de Lesseps is back on the market after split from boyfriend. From a dating column (addressing Are You Dating the 'Right One'?): If your gut is telling you otherwise, it's time to get out and get back on the market! It's an expression the learner ought to know. –  J.R. Jun 4 at 20:29

The relevant idiomatic expression is...

She's in the market (4630 hits in Google Books, as opposed to just 10 for ...on...)

The "base" expression to be in the market [for something] means you're actively seeking to acquire [something]. In general, if the thing sought isn't either explicitly specified or obvious from context, it means a romantic partner or relationship.

Because of the nature of that extremely common "implied" target, I imagine some people think of "I'm in the market" as meaning "I am available" (i.e. - someone else can "acquire" me), since semantically it would amount to much the same thing. But that "inverted" sense never applies if context clearly indicates anything other than a relationship, so I'd say it's just a misreading of the expression. Also note this...

(two couples chatting at a dinner party in December...)
1a: [one of couple A] "No-one wants to be buying or selling their house in December".
2a: [one of couple B] "I wouldn't say that. We're in the market".
2b: [one of couple B] "I wouldn't say that. We're on the market".

2b is one of the very few contexts where on can be used at all (effectively it means we = our house is on the housing market (i.e. - for sale). Whereas 2a is the more standard We're looking to buy a house.


TL;DR: For the literal sense it's always in the market (or at the market). For idiomatic usages, it's always on the market = for sale, and in the market = seeking to buy (or get in some other way).

EDIT: It seems several people here accept "non-facetious" usage of "I'm on the market" meaning nothing more than "I'm actively seeking a partner", so it's worth noting that as a possibility. But my advice would be only use it of yourself if you're aware of the "I'm available to be chosen" connotations (as opposed to "I'm looking to make a choice" with the standard form). And I'd certainly advise caution with the on form if you're talking about someone else.

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Note that your Google Books hits actually confirm what I was saying in the comment under oerkelens’ reply: there is only one instance where ‘she’ is on the market for a new relationship (and that does read very unnaturally to me); whereas the majority of the in hits have a for clause. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 4 at 16:49
    
There simply is a difference in meaning between I'm on the market and I'm in the market, and I would argue that if one is sexist (which sex is discriminated against???) so is the other. The OP asked about the form which I answered for, and the other question I linked to deals with the difference between on and in. –  oerkelens Jun 4 at 17:29
    
There are actually only 4 different Google Books citations for she's on the market where the full context is visible, and one of those is definitely what I would call a "misuse" (she's on the market for a boyfriend). Given how common the standard expression is, I really don't see the point of defending the possibility of such a non-standard usage on a learners site. –  FumbleFingers Jun 4 at 17:42
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Perhaps there are few hits in books because the phrase is informal, yet it abounds. If a girl told me she was "on the market," I'd take that to mean she was available to start dating. If I were single, I'd consider it a green light to ask her out; if I wasn't on the market myself, I'd consider it an invitation to set her up with any single guys I might know. It may be hard to find the phrase in books, but advice columns often address it: After years of not dating, here’s how to get back on the market. –  J.R. Jun 4 at 20:48

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