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I have always argued adamantly, as long as the issue has been around, that gift should never be used as a verb. However, someone whose English knowledge I quite respect disagrees.

I’ve done some searching and I haven’t found a consensus; should gifting be shunned?

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    And why do you think that other people should never use it as a verb? – Alex B. Jun 14 '12 at 18:16
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    I agree in theory. In practice, well, we're bound by habit. Conceptually, there should be a clearer distinction between what describes an action, and what describes a thing. Realistically, it makes too much sense to just use a noun to describe an action that is largely considered the default one with regards to said noun. One can only hope that this pattern be made less prominent in future generations of the growth of the English language. Although I find that hope is quite futile. – user19589 Jun 17 '12 at 4:00
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    One person's "acceptable" in another person's "unacceptable". (There is no Academie Anglaise.) – Drew Dec 11 '15 at 18:23
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    @SvenYargs Is it a gift horse? – Tuesday Dec 13 '15 at 6:32
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    @timothymh: Let's just say that there's no realistic option for looking it in the mouth and sending it back. – Sven Yargs Dec 13 '15 at 6:37

12 Answers 12

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I don't know where you got the idea that gift should never be used as a verb.

Oxford Living Dictionaries

Give (something) as a gift, especially formally or as a donation or bequest.

Merriam-Webster

  1. to endow with some power, quality, or attribute
  2. a: to make a gift of; b: present.

Neither is this a recent innovation. The OED attests to gift as a verb since the 16th century:

The friendes that were together met [He] gyfted them richely with right good speede.

Some more recent examples include

They appear at banquets, and Richard takes pleasure in gifting them with luminous silks and rare Eastern jewels. (1931, The Crusades by Harold Lamb, via COHA)

I wondered, when the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) was speaking, whether the estate which has been gifted to Scotland to which he referred will become part of the Crown lands. (1943, House of Commons speech by Campbell Stephen, via Hansard)

In addition to potlatching, which is a system of exchange between communities in a social context often typified by competitive gifting, there was a considerable amount of outright sale and trade beyond the local community and sometimes over great distances. (1979, Washington v. Fishing Vessel Assn. 443 U.S. 658

Penman was gifted with a Grub Street membership card at a time when Grub Street had been decommissioned. (London Review of Books, 1998)

Our man watched the proceedings from 500 miles away in Scotland, but the gallery at Royal St. George's probably heard his groans as Bjorn took three shots to get out of that wee bunker on the 16th, gifting the Claret Jug to Ben Curtis and costing Hannan a touch over 5,000. (2004 Golf Magazine via COCA)

When the college gifted them the cottage, Eleanor was immediately struck by the difference between this shrunken dwelling and the other homes of Jericho. (2009 *New York Times)

Actress Mae Whitman, whose Arrested Development role as unimpressive Ann Veal has essentially gifted her with pop-cultural ownership of the word "her" ("...her?"), has bestowed her endorsement on Jonze's film. (2013 The Atlantic)

Just then, on Christmas of 2001, his sister-in-law gifted him a copy of Edmund Morris’s “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.” (2016 The New Yorker)

While Etihad’s annual report trumpeted the 5m passengers and $1.4bn revenue that its equity partners gifted it in 2015, the associated losses were brushed aside. (2017 The Economist)

Glasgow's Riverside Museum has been gifted a Tesla to showcase alongside its alternative fuel vehicles. (2018 BBC News)

The adjective gifted is traced to the past participle of the verb gift, from 1644 onwards.

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    It may be accepted, even by Oxford, but it frankly seems far from eloquent. You can also friend. The previous sentence is an example of where strict grammar fails to correct true semantic issues in English. I think the underlying issue is that these days people tend to think any damned noun they want to turn into a verb is totally okay as a verb. Gifting has been around for some time, but I've never liked how it flows off of the tongue. In the end, it is still quite valid, and perhaps should be relegated to the plethora of style issues for now. – user19589 Jun 17 '12 at 3:56
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    @shinyspoongod: I wouldn't complain about "friend" as a verb. "And I will friend you, if I may, // In the dark and cloudy day" A. E. Housman. "When vice makes mercy, mercy's so extended, // That for the fault's love is the offender friended." William Shakespeare. – Peter Shor Sep 27 '13 at 18:28
  • While it might be an ancient usage, it was not continuous and was strongly disfavored prior to ten or twenty years ago. – ohwilleke Feb 6 '18 at 6:58
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    @JonKiparsky I would remind you of the presence of the word since. – choster Apr 10 '18 at 17:10
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    @JonKiparsky I didn't add more recent citations because they are hardly difficult to find, but I've edited to include a handful of examples from the Davis corpora and from a simple web search. – choster Apr 10 '18 at 19:14
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Gift can indeed be used as a verb to mean give someone a gift. However it is not so commonly used this way as can be seen from the fact that this is not listed in smaller dictionaries.

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  • But anything you give is automatically a gift – Atario Nov 17 '14 at 23:27
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    @Atario Depends on your definition of what a gift is. If I give someone hell or the creeps, I doubt they would see either as any kind of gift. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 18 '14 at 0:06
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Plenty of gifts are unwanted; just ask my wife. <rimshot> – Atario Nov 19 '14 at 10:38
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Certainly. It's been used as such for some 500 years.

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    Well, it definitely has vintage, then! However, I get the impression it's being used much more now (than 10-20 years ago), and in cases where give would sound more natural and be more appropriate. What do you think, and does the OED have anything to offer on this? – Hugo Jun 14 '12 at 22:19
  • @Hugo: The OED’s most recent citations are from the second half of the 19th century, so that doesn’t help much. Not everything that is given is a gift. ‘Gift’ seems a suitable verb to use where it is. – Barrie England Jun 15 '12 at 6:32
  • I think you mean, it was used as such 500 years ago. There's a difference. In 2018, it's an abomination and a disgrace. – Jon Kiparsky Apr 10 '18 at 16:56
  • I recall a women's magazine article from some time in the 1990s entitled: "If you like him, gift him." That makes it ditransitive, I think. – Xanne Apr 16 '18 at 5:23
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I think the question to be asked with all backformed verbs — fragmentate, benefact, gift, etc. — is how does a new verb formed from a noun differ from the original root verb? What does gift connote that give does not?

One argument is that gift has a limited legitimate use when it refers to a large donation left by a benefactor. For example:

The new wing was gifted to the hospital by the estate of John Q. Smith.

For the most part, though, gift, as a verb, is just a meme — a mind-virus that has infected the language through unreasoned repetition.

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    "The new wing was given to the hospital by the estate of John Q. Smith." seems exactly the same in every sense, though. – Atario Nov 17 '14 at 23:29
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    @Atario Certainly not. It means exactly the same as donated would, but using given in the example sentence here would sound very strange. If the object given is an actual, physical thing, the recipient should be something that ranks fairly high on the animacy scale when using give. Otherwise you end up sounding quite odd. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 18 '14 at 0:13
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I don't know what criteria you're using to call it "very strange". It sounds perfectly ordinary to me. – Atario Nov 19 '14 at 10:37
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Gift is often used as a verb in commentaries on various sports. It is used in the sense of 'present [some party] with an easy opportunity to take an advantage', for instance 'Warne gifted Petersen a four-ball.' It is often used in football in the completive sense: 'England gifted Sweden two goals.' The word gave if used in these examples would not carry the same connotation of incompetence, and in the first example would be arguably delexical.

I agree that in other usages it sounds pretentious.

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Yes, it was used in the 16th century. So what? It has NOT been used continuously for 500 years, however. It's not a question of correctness. "Gifting" and "to gift" sound both pretentious and uneducated at the same time. If it does not offend your ear, there is no persuading you that less is more, that give and gift are the more straightforward usages. Go ahead and use gift as a verb and gerund, but you will never be mistaken for a good writer or speaker

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    You are completely wrong about: "It has not been used continuously for 500 years". You should never disagree about things like this with people (like Barrie England) who have access to the OED. The OED has quotes from 15??, 1621, 1677, 1749, 1826, 1844, and 1884. And Google Ngrams gives lots of uses since then. This usage seems to be slowly dying, but it does indeed have a long pedigree. – Peter Shor Sep 26 '13 at 15:08
  • So you're saying "it's been used in each of the last five centuries"? Okay, thanks for clearing that up! – Jon Kiparsky Nov 5 '18 at 1:29
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Yes, it should be shunned. Give replaces it perfectly in every instance, without sounding contrived, ignorant, effete, or commercialistic, and that's not an accident. You wouldn't cleft* a diamond, you'd cleave it. You wouldn't receipt* a shipment, you'd receive it. And so on.

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    Although it bothers me a bit too "to gift" has a more specific meaning than "to give" so although the latter can replace it, there is a loss of information in doing so. – smithkm Nov 18 '14 at 8:37
  • @smithkm What information? – Atario Nov 19 '14 at 10:39
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I have been hearing "gift" used as a verb more and more often. Since "to gift" used as a verb is legitimate and according to the Oxford English Dictionary has been around since the 17th century, I wonder if it is a usage from parts of the world where English may not be the first language and where the English spoken is a version from an earlier time period.

Personal opinion, the use of "to gift" as a verb seems pretentious to me. I realize English is a language which changes over time and I accept it. I will still cringe over the use of "to gift" as a verb.

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"Gift" is more specific—"give" could refer to part of trade, a payment, settlement of a debt, a response to a request. "Gift" excludes those cases. Almost makes sense to see it as a shortening of "give as a gift."

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Personally, I find ‘gifted’ perfectly fine and a good option, though I do find other forms such as gifting to be awkward.

However, someone mentioned that although it has been in used since the 16th/17th century, it could have been invented by someone unlearned in the language. This is a rather invalid assumption. First and foremost, colonisation of America only begain in 17th century. Colonisation of other regions, such as Africa and Asia, would be much late, mostly in the 19th century. Furthermore, English only became a universal language in the 20th century. Prior to that, most commoners only knew their own language, with the European nobility also learning French, the universal language amongst European nobility then. Non-natives who knew English would mostly have been royalty or a small population of nobles who had an interest in the subject, or were harsh on themselves. I highly doubt they would have embarrassed themselves by using imperfect English before they perfected it.

To be fair, an english word, with usage from the 16th/17th century, and still used today, would be quite an old word, since prior to that, up to the 15th century, English was in the state of Old English or later Middle English, both of which are rather different to the English we know today. 16th/17th century would be Early Modern English, which was what Shakespeare himself would have learnt and used.

As for what connotation it has as compared to give, when one gives something to another, it is unclear if one is giving the thing as a present, or simply passing it, while gift, as a verb, would be more precise.

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As someone from England and a native of the Midlands, the word gift is not part of my vocabulary and in its place we use the word present: Christmas present, birthday present etc. To use the noun "gift" as a verb sounds rediculous to my ears and there is absolutely nothing wrong with "giving" a present to someone, whether it be money or whatever. I hope this silly fad dies quickly.

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It's a matter of taste really. People with taste do not use the word incorrectly, people without taste do.

The nice thing about this approach is that it allows you and your friend to both feel smug and correct and neither of you has to bring it up anymore.

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  • Please support your answer with references and citations. Thanks. – Mari-Lou A Apr 10 '18 at 20:48

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