My question is that

Do American people always think "on sale" means "available to be bought at lower price"?

Do British people always think "on sale" means just "*available to be bought"

For example, When someone says "Clothes are now on sale at BigC", American will think they can buy clothes there at lower price while British will only think they can buy clothes there only and British will never think they can get them cheap there, right?

  • 1
    It is more typical in American English to use "for sale" to mean "available to be bought". Sep 27, 2021 at 1:36
  • @Canadian Yankee - This is VERY context dependent. Depending on the situations you find yourself in, one meaning or the other might be more common... but I think the typical experience of most Americans is that "lower price" is the more common meaning. I don't mean to invalidate your experience though-- the contexts you personally usually encounter may very well have more uses for the "is available to be purchased" meaning. Sep 27, 2021 at 2:37
  • My experience as a Canadian is 100% "on sale" means "lowered price", while "for sale" means "available for purchase". I was unaware other meanings of "on sale" existed
    – gotube
    Sep 27, 2021 at 4:10
  • @RichardWinters - For example, there is the famous six-word short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." In that case for sale most definitely means "is available to be purchased." Likewise, real estate signs in front of houses very frequently say "For sale" and it means the same thing. Sep 27, 2021 at 11:23
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    I voted to leave this question open because we can factually say what this term means in the UK or North America. It's not our "opinion".
    – gotube
    Sep 28, 2021 at 3:39

1 Answer 1


In American English, "on sale" can have either meaning depending on the context. The context is generally whether you would already expect the item to be available to be sold at that store or not.

"Bananas are on sale at the grocery store."

We would expect bananas to be available to be bought at the grocery store, so here, "on sale" means "available to be bought at a lower price."

"Used cars are on sale at the grocery store's parking lot."

Here, we would not usually expect used cars to be available to be purchased at the grocery store's parking lot, so the meaning is simply "available to be purchased" with no expectation for there to be a lower price.

(I apologize, I cannot answer for British English)

  • Do you really say, "at the grocery store's parking lot"? I'd say "in..."
    – gotube
    Sep 27, 2021 at 4:11
  • 1
    I don't have a citation for this, but my feeling is that I would use "in" if I was in near proximity to the parking lot and grocery store, but "at" if I'm far away from it, such as at home. "There's trash in the parking lot (just outside, while I'm in the store)." "I'll meet you at the parking lot (said while I'm making plans at home)." I don't know why I feel this is the case, but it seems like a lot of English is like that. Sep 27, 2021 at 4:38
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    I am British, and I would probably regard 'on sale' as meaning 'available to be bought'. I would be pleased to say 'my new book will be on sale from Monday', but less pleased, a few months later, to say 'my book is now in a sale', or 'My book is available on offer'. Sep 27, 2021 at 7:31
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    We (UK) certainly use sale to mean 'an event in which excess stock is sold off at a lower price', but we would probably say that an item was [included] in the sale. Sep 27, 2021 at 8:44

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