If I'm talking about a promotional offer that one can take advantage of more than once within a given period, should I say "The offer can apply multiple times" or "The offer can be applied multiple times"?

Is there anything unusual about "can apply multiple times"? I've found a few Google hits like the following:

Select this check box if the offer can apply multiple times. This is normally used for duration discounts when the contract says that for each block of 7 nights the customer gets one free.

http://downloads.dolphind.com/training/traininglibrarybmm/Product Database User Guide - Land.pdf

The promotional offer cannot be used cumulatively with customer conditions. Only one offer can apply.

The offer will not apply or be extended outside of the promotional date or uplift date ranges.


These come from a British and a New Zealand business, respectively.

Could this be a British thing, given that New Zealand is a member of the British Commonwealth?

I'd appreciate your help.

  • Apply to what? The offer can be used multiple times. – Michael Rybkin Jan 27 '18 at 9:49
  • To purchases, obviously. Can't this bit of information be implied rather than stated? – Apollyon Jan 27 '18 at 9:53

Now, after sticking to my guns with correct language use based of semantics, I need to make a caveat. I found an example of a certainly native-English-speaking corporation that uses the phrase "an offer can be applied" (though only once). It happens to be Amazon in its how-to for promotional codes. Note that when the process is described, the how-to shows where to enter a promotional code (not offer) and then click "apply." You can't enter an offer into a field. The phrase in question (the questionable phrase) appears further down amidst a whole lot of legalese. The thing is, the document specifically defines, for the purposes of the document, what the word "offer" will mean for the purposes of this particular document, and it's one heck of a intricate ball of attributes: "promotional claim code offer."

And where the "offer is applied", it is an example of catachresis, that is, a semantic error. It can be used by native speakers, sometimes as high literature—there it would be a deliberate "skewing" of the language landscape for poetic purposes, like the example in the Wikipedia article, "Mow the beard, Shave the grass."

This is not a reason, however, to expect a phrase like "My wife wants me to mow my beard" to be okayed for everyday use.

Which is why answers both on wordreference and here were suggesting to substitute something else either for "offer" ("promo code"), or for "applied" ("be used").

The correct semantics of this, I have detailed in the discussion to my previous answer.

An important factor in what to use in a language is established usage. Established usage is that it's the promo codes and the discounts that are "applied", overwhelmingly. The possibility of buying something with such a discount is an offer by a company, which is a meta-term, and it would be a semantic/stylistical mistake to use it metonymically.

The correct usage would be "This 20% sale is a nice offer by this company. You can take advantage of it by using a promo code. You apply it in your shopping cart when checking out".

Awkward language happens to all native speakers, especially when an intersection of legal matters and software use is involved.


The phrase "the offer can apply multiple times", when googled in quotation marks, is found only in one document on the web (the one you linked to), and in your questions that you have posted here and also on wordreference forums. You should never base yourself on something coming up in only one document, especially when it is supposed to describe something that happens thousands of times every day all over the internet (offers being made). Whoever wrote that document might not have been a professional writer, could be a non-native speaker, etc.

Native speakers that told you that they wouldn't use the active version are counfused by the addition of "multiple times". What they are thinking of is the phrase "the coupon (or promotion code) can be applied multiple times" (which is what people have also told you on wordreference). Native users, if they are not professional linguists or editors, can also become confused about things and use a word that is wrong in a particular context.

An offer is a single situation provided by a company. A company decides, "We'll give you a 10% discount if you enter the promotion code FRIEND10. You can use this code multiple times from next Monday to next Friday."

This is all one single offer. The buyer doesn't apply the offer. S/he is making use of one offer by applying a promotion code.

In cases where "an offer applies", we are not talking about the act of a user/buyer making use of it. The phrase "this offer applies" describes some rules of the offer, provides its characteristics. E. g. an offer can be characterized by a certain duration (as in the phrase "The offer will not apply or be extended outside of the promotional date") which you've quoted. It is another way of saying the offer will not be valid. It is a characteristic/rule given by those who provide the offer (the company), not by those who make use of it.

This is why the phrase "the offer can be applied multiple times" is not correct.

  • 1
    No. An offer can't "apply multiple times". This phrase is simply not used (you keep repeating "when it's used", but it's NOT used; it's not a correct use of this word). An offer can apply to someone (e. g. "to customers within the United States". The sentence may not have an object at all. E. g. "The offer still applies", meaning "it's still valid". An offer cannot be valid multiple times. – tenebris2020 Jan 28 '18 at 4:50
  • 1
    Google the phrase (I'm copying it from your comment), in quotation marks, "The offer can be applied multiple times". I get 9 results. Three of them are links to this discussion. Others are from a website called "thisweekindia.news" (Indian webside, so it's not "native" English), several ebay pages selling Indian incense (again, India), and a blog on ftemedia.blogspot.com which appears to also be authored by an Indian. This phrase is NOT used ANYWHERE by native speakers of English. You are not hearing me. This is an incorrect phrase. – tenebris2020 Jan 28 '18 at 4:59
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    @Apollyon Looking at the first dictionary cited here, "to apply a promotion code" is transitive meaning number 3 (To put into action: he applied the brakes). In our case, we apply a promotional code—put it into action. This meaning can be turned into passive: "The promotion code can be applied." When "an offer applies to US customers", it's intransitive meaning No. 1: "to be pertinent or relevant". It cannot become a passive. – tenebris2020 Jan 28 '18 at 5:04
  • 1
    Both of the phrases you use are incorrect. The first one is incorrect because a wrong subject is used ("offer"). Since it is a passive, it is made from a transitive verb "to put into action", and what is put into action is a promotion code or coupon. The second one is incorrect because of the meaning of the intransitive verb itself. If an offer is relevant to US customers, in cannot "be relevant many times". Being relevant is a single, all-encompassing state of things. – tenebris2020 Jan 28 '18 at 5:07
  • 1
    This phrase also sounds awkward, you are trying to overlap two meanings in one word. (also proven by the fact that if you google it in quotation marks, there is zero Google results for the phrase as it is. It's best to say "The offer can be used for multiple purchases" which is a phrase that is used on actual American websites. – tenebris2020 Jan 28 '18 at 5:20

Let's use rule instead of "offer".

This rule applies on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

This rule can be applied only on weekends.

In the intransitive version, "this rule applies", there is no agent applying the rule.

With the transitive version, "can be applied", there's an implicit agent who applies the rule.

You apply this rule on weekends.

The same thing can be stated using the verb intransitively or transitively. When transitive, it is a passive (or quasi-passive) construction.

The rule is applicable.

P.S. As is shown in this example, offer applies is standard disclaimer-speak. The thing that's giving your native speakers of AmE pause here is the modal can apply. can apply is not disclaimer-speak (in a disclaimer something either applies or it does not apply). So can apply must default to general-speak, and it refers to how the offer can be used, that is, to how the customer can use the offer, and so the passive form would be preferred: can be applied [by the customer]

  • What bothers me is that some (American) speakers told me they wouldn't use the (active) intransitive version. – Apollyon Jan 28 '18 at 1:58
  • I've added a P.S. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 28 '18 at 12:15
  • But "offers" are not generally speaking "applied". They are accepted. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 28 '18 at 14:12

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