Consider the oil market. The two options are:

The market for oil


The market of oil

The former seems to be the most popular, giving the most hits in google. There is also the very famous paper in Economics titles "market for lemons". However, the second alternative also exists. For instance, an academic article titled "The market of symbolic goods" is here (well, it is a translation of a French article, so you could say it's wrong. But translation was done by R. Swyer, which appears to be also an English surname).

Funnily enough, in Spanish we mostly use the second form, e.g. "mercado de petroleo", and not "mercado para petroleo". This also seems to be the case in Italian and French. I think my native Spanish inclines me to the second form, but I get the feeling the first one is the "canonical" term. Is this the case?

  • "The market for oil" and "the oil market" differ slightly; the former actually refers to the demand, rather than the market generally.... at a guess it's probably related to the phrase "to be in the market for". What do you want to say? More context might help.
    – tmgr
    Sep 1, 2018 at 10:44
  • @tmgr I don't agree. In economics (my field), they are many times used indistinctly (e.g. here)
    – luchonacho
    Sep 1, 2018 at 10:50
  • 2
    It certainly can refer to the demand and that's an important difference in emphasis between the two terms. (Incidentally, "the market of oil" is just plain wrong. Maybe that's all you need to know.)
    – tmgr
    Sep 1, 2018 at 11:13

2 Answers 2


You can't say the market of oil - it's not an option.

It isn't a question of 'canonicity', as you put it, nor is it the case that the oil market and the market for oil are simply more common; the market of oil is just wrong. (It is, of course, completely understandable and communicative, but - let us make no bones about it - it is not proper English.)

Moreover, although there are some contexts when the two phrasings are, essentially, interchangeable, there is, in fact, a real distinction between the market for oil and the oil market; despite your very learned insistence to the contrary, the market for oil fundamentally refers to the demand for oil.

Of course, while all this is unthought and obvious to native speakers, explicitly proving this is the case is difficult. Let's look at the definition of the word market and work from there. (It's not apparent from your question that you deigned to actually look up market in a dictionary; nonetheless that's exactly what I will do. I am using Oxford Living Dictionaries as it is freely available and has plenty of current real-world example sentences.)

Looking at the definition of market

First, there is the most literal sense, such as a cattle market or a flower market (noting in passing that a market of flowers would be made of flowers, a market of cattle would be a grisly, gristly architectural obscenity, and that a market of symbolic goods is rather hard to even picture):

market (noun)

A regular gathering of people for the purchase and sale of provisions, livestock, and other commodities.

An open space or covered building where vendors convene to sell their goods.

We can dispense with those two as we are talking about a metaphorical gathering, a notional collection of all those interested in particular goods or services. What we mean by market is:

An area or arena in which commercial dealings are conducted.

‘Many are the companies which have relied heavily on sales into the home market, only to see trends, fashions or buying patterns change.’

‘Meanwhile, commercial real estate markets remained weak and new construction was limited.’

‘This matches the needs from many regional companies who are indeed delivering the bulk of their sales across the Balkan markets.’

It's worth noting here that this last example sentence shows clearly that the market for x is not interchangeable with the x market, despite your contention to the contrary. Consider the Balkan market and the market for Balkans: both may exist but, unless we're talking about a bazaar in the Greek Quarter, they are decidedly different things. (No one could tell you what the market of Balkans might be; it simply confuses.)

Looking at market for more generally, we come to the next part of the dictionary definition:

A demand for a particular commodity or service

‘There is a market for high-priced wine.’

‘An East Lancashire businessman who has run lap-dancing bars in towns and cities said there simply wasn't a market for it in Blackburn.’

‘We were creating a market for natural gas and electricity that had never existed before.’

‘Malang, like other regional towns of Indonesia, is changing, and a market for new local newspapers is emerging.’

Note that none of these examples refers to the market of x, y or z; neither do any of the many others included in the entry linked above, which you may peruse at your leisure. (There are further definitions of market too, but they are not relevant to the question.)

As I suggested to you before, it is also worth looking at the entry for be in the market for:

be in the market for (phrase)

wish to buy

‘She's in the market for a new laptop.’

‘If we announced that we were in the market for fresh ivory, of course that would encourage the poaching of elephants.’

It is clear this is substantially the same as the market for referred to previously; for indicates a purpose or goal, much as in looking for, aiming for, etc. See the fourth-listed sense of for in this dictionary entry: having (the thing mentioned) as a purpose or function.

Why not market of?

Largely, just because. A language is nothing but a collection of symbols and conventions (some of them subtle) and the English language is quite indifferent to how you feel about its rules - or quirks, if you prefer it that way. Prepositions are malleable enough that the choice can seem arbitrary when compared with other languages... because it often is arbitrary - the meaning rests only in a tacit agreement and understanding of the rules between native speakers.

The best explanation I can give is that with the market of oil the emphasis is on market and there is no good reason to emphasise market in this context; oil is where the emphasis should lie when we are distinguishing between markets or specifying a particular market as the topic. (I will very happily upvote anyone who can give a better explanation or expand upon this.)

Also, of constructions are often used to convey a formality, literary feeling, grandeur or sense of age that would be out of step with buying and selling oil. If you consider The Field of the Cloth of Gold or Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lost Ark Raiders and The Gold Cloth Field both seem somehow lacking by comparison. In general speech we tend to avoid phrasing like this in favour of the marginally shorter, less flowery and more prosaic noun adjunct construction.

If you wish to say the market of oil you will, of course, be understood. However, to a native speaker it will sound, at best, like an attempt at stylised faux-archaic speech, perhaps from a bad fantasy novel, or, as is more likely in nearly every context, the market of oil will be perceived as an error, for that is what it is.

At the end of the day, for is not für, para or pour; neither is of the same as von or de.

Historical usage: still no market of

If the dictionary isn't enough to prove that the market of x doesn't fly (although it really should be), take a look at the ngrams for the following phrases: the market for wool, the market of wool, the wool market, the market for beef, the market of beef, the beef market.

I chose beef and wool for obvious enough reasons - they have some history as commodities, they were important to the historical English economy and so are likely to have been discussed, and, in the case of beef market, at least, the phrase in context is very unlikely to refer to a physical market, the first sense of market we met in the dictionary. (I did not get results before the second half of the 18th century; The Wealth of Nations wasn't published until 1776.) However, feel free to experiment with other historical commodities - do ensure that you make sure the search is case insensitive as there was a tendency in English to capitalise nouns that persisted for quite some time.


However, whatever I looked for, the results were the same as regards the market of: Ngrams not found.

N.B. I make no reference to Italian, Japanese or any other language, nor do I address yours, not because I ignored them but for the simple reason that references to other languages, while interesting in and of themselves, really don't have anything to do with current English usage except in exceptional circumstances, and they don't add a single thing to your question; they don't even 'show your work' as, by the same token, they do not constitute proper research.

Further, for your future reference, questions of this sort are probably more at home at English Language Learners; you may find it a useful resource, along with a good dictionary. I recommend Collin's Cobuild for current usage; it is based on a modern corpus, aimed at competent learners and is very clear with fantastic well-chosen example sentences.


Here are both of your examples in 2 grammatically correct sentences (in AmE) from the OED:

1950 J. A. Thompson European Market for Dry Edible Beans
Favas or broad beans occupy a little more acreage than... OED

J. Mede Wks. (1672) They permitted a market of oxen and sheep, doves and other bartery. OED

The context and syntax supply the correct grammar.

  • 1
    1672 is not exactly modern-day English; they spoke different back then. Sep 3, 2018 at 23:56
  • The OED is a 'dictionary on historical principles'; when discussing current usage, not every example sentence plucked from it is relevant or helpful. Sometimes they are actively unhelpful. (The context supplies the correct inference.)
    – tmgr
    Sep 4, 2018 at 10:39

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