I'm a copy editor at a law firm and need to give a quick-and-dirty explanation of the difference between "sell" and "sale" to a native English speaker (a legal secretary) who is very self-conscious about her grammar knowledge. I've already given her info about how they are different parts of speech, and some example sentences. She's still not comfortable with her understanding but doesn't know or isn't able to articulate the area(s) of difficulty. Any suggestions?
@Tames is quite right. It's the verb that's the key. And the vowel in the verb.
The verb sell /sɛl/ contains the mid front lax vowel /ɛ/, as in bet or men.
The noun sale /sel/, derived from the verb sell, contains the mid front tense vowel /e/ (also /ey, ei, ej, e:/, etc), as in bait or main. These vowels are distinctive (i.e, Phonemic) in English.
However, speakers of many languages, like Spanish and Malay, do not easily distinguish [ɛ] from [e], so there may be some cultural problems, since pronunciation is what most people use as memory cues.
If that's not an issue, then the test is
- if it should be sale, then you can substitute an equivalent Noun Phrase like
- the sale that Bill told me about
- if it should be sell, then you can substitute an equivalent Verb Phrase like
- will sell the remaining stocks