What Is Gratis?

Maggie Worth

"Gratis" is a term that refers to something that is free. Specifically, it usually refers to goods and services that are provided at no cost to the recipient. The word has its origins in Latin, but came into common usage in England in the 1400s. The term is virtually interchangeable with the terms "complimentary" and "free of charge."

Businessman giving a thumbs-up
Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Examples of items that are commonly provided gratis might include free valet parking at a restaurant or theater, beverages on an airline flight and Internet access at a hotel. Promotional items that are given away would also fall into this category. Businesses often provide free-of-charge items as an incentive to customers to buy other products and services.

The word is actually a contraction of the Latin word gratiis, which is variously translated as "favor," "with graces" or "as a kindness." The word can be pronounced either as "grat-is" or "grey-tis." In either case, the accent is placed on the first syllable.

This particular word may be used as either an adjective or an adverb. When used as an adjective, it would describe a noun. For example, a valet might explain that his services are gratis. In this case, "gratis" describes the word "services."

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When used as an adverb, the term would describe a verb. For example, the valet might say that his services are provided gratis. In this case, "gratis" describes the verb, "provided." In English, both forms of the word are spelled the same, and no alternate forms are used.

It is important to note that "gratis" is associated only with the definition of the English word "free" that means a lack of charge or obligation in return for a provided good or service. In English, "free" can also mean unrestricted, such as in the phrase "this is a free country." Used in this way, the English word "free" correlates to the Latin libre.

Unlike many other adjectives and adverbs, the word "gratis" rarely precedes the word it modifies in a sentence. For example, a business might advertise "free Wi-Fi," but would be unlikely to advertise "gratis Wi-Fi." The formal feel and sound of the word makes it more likely to be used in high-end retail situations or in the context of business-to-business transactions.

Other words and phrases are more commonly used in normal business-to-consumer transactions. These might include "free," "free of charge," "complimentary" or "at no cost." Legal services provided without charge, on the other hand, are referred to as "pro bono."

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