What is the difference between gift and present?

  • A gift is a present that no one wants. – Barrie England Jan 25 '12 at 9:04

One difference is that we use birthday gift or birthday present but we only use free gift and not free present.

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    Maybe it has to do with the origin of the word. While a gift is simply given, a present is presented. – malach Jan 5 '11 at 8:52
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    -1 This claim that "present is more special than gift" is complete nonsense. I'm not convinced it's meaningful to "rank" these words, but the gift of life is probably more "special" than any present you'll ever receive. – FumbleFingers Aug 19 '12 at 0:35
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    Before it was edited, the answer had the following description: They are both free, but present is more special than gift and suggests a nontrivial relationship between the giver and the receiver. Which I kind of liked, especially the reference to "non-trivial relationship", because it's true. Shops, beauticians, perfumeries give away free samples, which are often called "gifts". – Mari-Lou A Jan 28 '16 at 12:12
  • In my understanding they are distinct. A gift is something someone wants you to have, but a present has the additional property that the giver has some idea that it is wanted by the receiver. – Joshua Olson Nov 13 '18 at 23:29

In many contexts, there is not much difference. I'd say "present" is mostly used in a practical context, when you hand someone a present on his birthday; "gift" is rather used in an abstract or formal context, as in the gift of telepathy [by supernatural powers], or a gift of land to the church. But this distinction is not at all strict; in many practical situations, they are used interchangeably. I think "present" is the more limited word. When it is used in a formal context, it is often with mild irony: "the Duchy of Burgundy was a handsome present for Maximilian to receive from a potential bride, so the Habsburgs did not need much time to decide on the target of their bribes".


A radio show titled "Says You!" had a piece on "what's the difference?" The answer to gift vs present was that one gives a present in person, but sends a gift. The show itself seems well researched, with the occasional listener letter sent in and read as a correction.


I once heard that a present was something the giver chose because it was something he/she wanted the person they were presenting it to to have; while a gift was something that was given because it was something that the giftee has expressed a desire to have.

  • And how does this distinction fit with the usage of, say, "the gift of healing" or any other similar expression? – Paola Apr 28 '12 at 0:03
  • This answer doesn't account for the definition of present used in the question. – Zairja Nov 2 '12 at 19:11

They are both free, but present is more official than gift.

  • Really? I would tend to say the opposite, and even that wouldn't be a foolproof or complete delineation between the two. – Daniel Jan 25 '12 at 18:19

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