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I'm not sure what English word(s) to use for the German noun "Naturalrabatt" in the case of giving a retail customer a product for free in a non-immoral, non-sexual, non-promoting context.

  • rebate/bonus of kind
  • give-away
  • freebie
  • free goods
  • other?

I was told that "rebate/bonus of kind" might easily be misunderstood as an immoral/indecent proposal by native speakers (is this correct?).

The "give-away" and "freebie" seem to be used in promotion/advertising actions mainly, but the free product is not given for any promotion/advertising reasons in this case.

The "free goods" seems to be unreasonable, because it is mainly used in a duty-free context (afaik), but the free product got nothing to do with any duty/toll in this case.

Well, I'm lost^^

Any ideas?


Matt Эллен, Kitḫ, Kris, here are some more specific reasons/contexts.

Example #1: something between retailer and customer went wrong. Say, the retailer promised to deliver within 2 days, but failed to do so. The retailer wants to compensate/apologize by handing out a free product (but not by money).

Example #2: a customer noticed a bug in the retailer's web shop and reported it. This unspotted bug made the retailer sporadically lose conversions. The retailer wants to thank/reward by handing out a free product (but not by money).

Example #3: the retailer doesn't want to work with tier prices. Instead, if a customer buys 10 pieces of a product, he gets a coupon code which can be used to either get a 11th piece of the same product for free, or to get one different product, for free.

In German, all of those three examples qualify as "Naturalrabatt".

Is there a generic english term covering those three examples, too?

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I'm not sure how a retail customer can get free goods in a non-promotional context. Please could you explain? – Matt E. Эллен Feb 8 '12 at 17:22
I don't think "rebate" would be considered an indecent proposal, but it has a pretty specific meaning. Can you give a specific description of the context? – Kit Z. Fox Feb 8 '12 at 17:23
For what it’s worth I wouldn’t understand the German word and I’m a native speaker with a quite rich (passive) thesaurus. Extrapolating, I’d say that you shouldn’t use the word in German if you want to be understood. – Konrad Rudolph Feb 8 '12 at 19:31
Just because there is a catchall word (actually a conjoined phrase) in German does not mean there should be one in English for the combination of features. We cannot always find words that encompass specific sets of meanings. In this particular case, I would myself use gift, and do it with a flourish. – Kris Feb 9 '12 at 11:01
My reaction to this question would be the following: of course it's a promotion. It's a promotion when hotels offer "free" breakfast. If "Naturalrabatt" means "you get more of what you're buying than what you pay for", that's also a promotion; in America, we usually refer to that as a promotion of the type "buy-n, get-m free"; as in, the packs of boneless skinless chicken breasts are buy-one, get-one free this week. – Patrick87 Feb 9 '12 at 17:00
up vote 13 down vote accepted

I'm not sure how many people would accept it as an "English" word, but gratis - without reward or consideration. comes to mind.

The more familiar, complimentary is often used the same way. Note that this is an adjective. Actual items are normally named (e.g. - a hotel offers complimentary breakfast), or collectively referred to as complimentary gifts. From the "trader's" side, such things may also be called corporate/promotional/business gifts/products; the recipients are more likely to call them freebies (or goody bags, which can be much more than candies for kids).

Gratis is more likely to be found in legal contexts (where you also find pro bono, used to describe work lawyers do without direct payment).

Complimentary is mostly used in commercial contexts where a trader provides something free, usually complementing (going together with) something else you're paying for. Note the different spelling for complimentary (something nice said or given), which many people get mixed up (that's 420 written instances of "complementary breakfast" written in error).

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I agree with "complimentary" as being quite close to the OP's question. I'm a German speaker, too, so I see both sides. ie: "Complimentary breakfast" at a hotel. Of course, in the end, when you really do the math, nothing is free :) – Martin S. Stoller Feb 8 '12 at 18:33
@Martin S. Stoller: Quite so. But your comment about "complimentary breakfast" prompts me to think of why we don't normally hear such of things being called "gratis", so I'll edit to reflect that - thanks for the nudge. – FumbleFingers Feb 8 '12 at 18:43
Per OP's edit. Those given in compensation/ return for favors/ recognition of loyalty are not called complimentaries; at least not in general usage. I had avoided suggesting that word for this reason. – Kris Feb 9 '12 at 10:55
@Kris: Sure, complimentary isn't used as a noun. We don't have a standard noun applicable across all contexts (swag, goody-bag, freebie, etc. can''t be used in every register) But it's the standard adjective placed in front of the noun for whatever you're giving away (or receiving, unless you want to say the hotel gave you a "freebie breakfast"). – FumbleFingers Feb 9 '12 at 12:23
Would "complimentary gifts" make sense? – Jürgen Thelen Feb 9 '12 at 13:48

Some various translations shown at linguee suggest that terms like bonus, discount, discount in kind, in-kind rebate, rebate in kind, or redeemable in kind would be neutral terms (not suggestive of graft or kickbacks occurring) for translation of Naturalrabatt. (Note, in this context, "in kind" is a more-common or more-natural English construction than is "of kind".)

In America, the scope of terms rebate and coupon is quite broad, and covers cash discounts as well as in-kind rebates and the "Buy 12, get 2 free" sort of promotion. Inducements can refer to free gift promotions, such as "Start an account now and get a toaster" or "Buy this car now and we'll wash it for a year".

A less-neutral term is lagniappe, "a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase, such as a 13th beignet when buying a dozen, or more broadly something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure; a bonus."

Among linguee translations are

  • free of charge for promotional reasons
  • promotions
  • "free goods"
  • rebate in kind
  • proportionate quantity in relation to the delivered quantity
  • voucher for ... natural discount
  • inclusive bonus quantity ... inclusive free goods
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What is a "rebate in kind"? (that is as different from a regular rebate). It sounds like to me an exchange back in something in the same terms (coupons for cash rather than swag), but that does not seem at all what is meant by the OP. – Mitch Feb 8 '12 at 18:40
While many rebates are cash-back or cash-discount arrangements, some instead offer additional units of product. For example, if when buying several boxes of cereal one gets a coupon for a free box of the same cereal, that could be termed a "rebate in kind"; and this example also is a Naturalrabatt – jwpat7 Feb 8 '12 at 18:59
Oh...I'd never heard of that phrase before..it sounds like salesman-commercial-speech, not something one would use in a non-technical conversation. "Hey, did you get a discount? Naw, just a measly rebate-in-kind." sounds really wrong. – Mitch Feb 8 '12 at 21:19

I think you have two options to resolve the issue. (That will put you in a new dilemma?)

First, find the reason for the 'something', rather than what are all the non-reasons for it. That will tell you what to call it naturally.

Alternately, call it simply a gift. 'Gift' does NOT have negative connotations of immorality, sexuality, or expectations in return, per se. After all, it's the thought that counts.

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Various retailer rewards programs give you a free gift periodically, simply for being a member.

By themselves, rebate or bonus don't have any immoral or indecent connotations. (Maybe it's the "in kind" part that the people you asked found objectionable.) However, they do imply that a previous transaction of some sort took place.

As you mentioned, free goods is usually used in the context of duty-free goods.

As suggested by FumbleFingers, something that's complimentary incurs no cost or obligation.

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"token of our appreciation", as in, "Please accept this as a token of our appreciation." [e.g., for pointing out that bug in our software to us]

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