A friend claims that the phrase for free is incorrect. Should we only say at no cost instead?
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All the sentences are correct.
Reasonable paraphrasings of the word free in this context are for nothing/for no payment. Clearly the word "for" can't be omitted from those paraphrasings. Thus many people will say that for free equates to for for free, so they feel it's ungrammatical.
Many people use the expression (at least informally), so it seems futile to take issue with it - though more "careful" advertising copywriters do still tend to avoid it.
I don't know if it was David Crosby or Joni Mitchell who wrote the lyrics to He Played Real Good for Free that she sings so well, but I can't imagine dropping the word "for" there.
For free is an informal phrase used to mean "without cost or payment."
The phrase is correct; you should not use it where you are supposed to only use a formal sentence, but that doesn't make a phrase not correct.
I believe the puzzle comes from the common but mistaken belief that prepositions must have noun-phrase object complements. Since for is a preposition and free is an adjective, the reasoning goes, there must be something wrong. The fact is that even the most conservative of dictionaries, grammars, and usage books allow for constructions like although citizens disapprove of the Brigade's tactics, they yet view them as necessary or it came out from under the bed. That is, they tacitly accept prepositions with non-object complements while claiming that all prepositions must be transitive.
A more coherent view is that prepositions, like nouns, adjectives, and verbs take a variety of complements. In the case of for, one of them is free.
The first response to this question (above, at the top) made me chuckle. It states, "How about it being correct because many people use it, and that's how languages evolve. – Jonathan. Aug 16
Well, Jonathan, how about it NOT being correct simply because many people use it? Yes, languages evolve, but they shouldn't de-volve.
Another comment, above, mentioned that this phrase is acceptable in advertising circles. True, it is, and all the more shame heaped upon it's usage. Advertisers now use this syntactical abomination freely, as they carelessly appeal to our lower natures, and matching intellects.
Sean, above, wrote, "free is just a placeholder for $0." I disagree, and this is the point.
The term 'for' must be used with a commodity.
The use of a commodity, such as 'five dollars', can be correctly phrased, "for five dollars". It's an amount. But the term 'free' denotes the ABSENCE of a commodity.
'Free' denotes amountlessness.
The only phrase that comes close, and is in fact correct, is: for nothing.
Would you ever use the phrase, "for expensive"? No. You wouldn't.
All uses of the word 'for' in front of the word 'free' are just plain wrong.
Additionally, it sounds ridiculous and makes you seem uneducated, unless you're talking to another uneducated person, in which case, they talk that way too, so they won't notice or couldn't care that your English is compromised.
I could go on, so I won't.
"Free" in an economic context, is short for "free of charge." As such, it is correct.
Of course it means different things (like "liberated") in other contexts.
Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, second edition (2003) has a typically sensible view of the subject:
"For free" as a way of saying "at no cost" has been circulating in speech and in the popular press for more than half a century. I first took conscious note of it in 1970, when Joni Mitchell included a song titled "For Free" on her album of that year, Ladies of the Canyon. One instance from the song:
It seems not at all inconsistent to include "for free" in a song that elsewhere uses such homely phrasing as "playing real good." Mitchell was born in Alberta and grew up in Saskatchewan, but she had been living in the U.S. for three years (and California for two) by 1970, so I have no idea where she picked up the expression "for free."
To gauge the use of "for free" in copyedited publications, I ran Google Books search results for word strings in which "for free" would be likely to appear only as an end phrase in a sentence or independent clause. Here is the resulting Ngram chart, for the years 1900–2005, for the strings "for free the" (blue line) "for free a" (red line), "for free can" (green line), "for free could" (yellow line), "for free would" (real line), and "for free do" (purple line):
False positives in the line graphs give the erroneous impression that attested instances in the Google Books database go to the first decade of the twentieth century (if not farther). In fact, the earliest confirmed instance of "for free" in the sense of "at no cost" that I could find was this one from Starr De Belle, "Ballyhoo Bros.' Circulating Expo," in The Billboard magazine (1947):
Presumably, since Starr De Belle presents this item as being an epistolary effort by one "Major Privilege" of Goat's Whiskers, Kentucky, the use of "for free" reflects the author's notions of colorful but substandard hick U.S. English from what would later become known as "flyover country."
In any event, the next two Google Books matches for "or free" in the relevant sense are from 1960. From a company's anti-unionizing message cited in Decisions and Orders of the National Labor Relations Board, volume 126 (1960):
Note that, as in Garner's example from the Wall Street Journal, the author of this message chose not to use "for free" at another point in the same piece.
And from Kansas Government Journal (1960):
In recent decades, however, use of "for free" to mean "at no cost" has skyrocketed. Search results for the period 2001–2008 alone yield hundreds of matches in all sorts of edited publications, including books from university presses. There is no denying that, seventy years ago, "for free" was not in widespread use in edited publications—and that it conveyed an informal and perhaps even unsavory tone. Such pasts are not irrelevant when you are trying to pitch your language at a certain level—and in some parts of the English-speaking world, "for free" may still strike many listeners or readers as outlandish. But in the United States the days when using "for free" marked you as a probable resident of Goat's Whiskers, Kentucky, are long gone.
The phrase is generally inaccurate. If you have to buy one to get the next one for free, it wasn't actually free. Same with items you receive for filling out a survey.
"At no cost" is usually more accurate in that it indicates you will not have to pay money for the item.
However the use of free is widely accepted to mean at no monetary cost. Its use is acceptable in advertising or speech and its use is understood to mean no monetary cost. I would only change the use in a situation where clarity and accuracy were truly important, like in a contract.
protected by RegDwigнt♦ Mar 28 '12 at 19:24
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