Free is an ambiguous word.

For the purpose of this question I'll skip any meaning the word may bear as a verb, and I'll also overlook the "free from/of" variant.

In fact, I'll just focus on the two perhaps most prevalent connotations of the adjective "free".

As defined by Oxford Living Dictionaries:

  1. able to act or be done as one wishes; not under the control of another
  2. given or available without charge

-Context, I can nearly hear you demand.

As many of you are well aware of, however, context is not always verbal:

Picture the word FREE, printed upon an HD shot of some tundra, and the message is nr. 1.

Picture the same word printed upon the front page of some newspaper, and the message is nr. 2.

Now let's remove the background. The sole word is probably perplexing you. So let's add some spice in front of it: ABSOLUTELY FREE

Is the meaning leaning towards either of the two definitions?

My bet is on nr. 2, but native speakers are more than welcome to either strengthen or challenge my case.

Any Thesaurus tool will provide quite a few synonyms for absolutely: entirely, completely, totally, perfectly, fully, utterly and many more...

I haven't deliberately written them in any specific order, yet my hunch tells me the first three (entirely, completely or totally free) would also tilt the message towards definition nr. 2, whereas the other three (perfectly, fully or utterly free) would rather give the benefit of the doubt to definition nr. 1.

I may be wrong, or it may be that some of these constructions just sound awkward to the native ear. In either case, any grounded verification or rejection of my suspicions would be greatly appreciated.

  • 1
    @AlanCarmack - I can easily imagine "completely free" being used in one of those late-night TV ads for some "as seen on TV" gizmo. And probably "entirely" and "totally" as well. – Hot Licks Dec 1 '16 at 2:57
  • Note: to me, tundra does not connote freedom, but restriction; perhaps because of the connections tundra : Siberia : prison camp. Wilderness might work better, although the Alaskan wilderness can be a harsh environment.) – Alan Carmack Dec 1 '16 at 3:01
  • Frankly, I don't think you can find common adverbs to do what you want. For the financial sense say "free of charge", and for the other sense use "independent" or "autonomous" or some such. – Hot Licks Dec 1 '16 at 3:02
  • @AlanCarmack Note sustained. Image editing goes a long way, though... halfway to freedom, if need be... – m.a.a. Dec 1 '16 at 3:07
  • Absolutely free goes well with either 1 or 2. Entirely, completely, totally work (absolutely) fine with 1, as well as 2 (as you stated). Utterly is fine for 2, as well as 1. These are all very close synonyms. The only one I have -qualms- about is fully. Besides the annoying F-sound starting both words, fully free is not as natural as any of the others for either 1 or 2, but it is perhaps less unnatural with 1. – Alan Carmack Dec 1 '16 at 3:07

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