This phrase is all over the internet. They will say that something is free as in 'free beer' and free as in 'free speech'. I have never really understood this.

Are these the examples of two different types of 'free'?

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia on Gratis versus Libre:

Gratis versus libre is the distinction between two meanings of the English adjective "free"; namely, "for zero price" (gratis) and "with few or no restrictions" (libre). The ambiguity of "free" can cause issues where the distinction is important, as it often is in dealing with laws concerning the use of information, such as copyright and patents.

And further:

With the advent of the free software movement, license schemes were created to give developers more freedom in terms of code sharing, commonly called open source or free and open source software. As the English adjective free does not distinguish between "for zero price" and "liberty", the phrases "free as in free beer" (gratis, freeware) and "free as in free speech" (libre, free software) were adopted. [...]

"Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer." — Richard Stallman

Emphasis added.

  • 2
    +1 For the excellent explanation, as well as the Richard Stallman quote.
    – Zoot
    Jan 27, 2011 at 17:56

Free beer means you do not have to pay for it. Free speech means you can say what you want. These are two different meanings.

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