Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

Is For Free Correct Grammar?

The Quick Answer
Strict grammarians will tell you that for free is grammatically incorrect because free is not a noun, and this means it cannot be preceded by for (a preposition).

In their view, something is sold for nothing or is sold free.

However, through common usage, for free has become acceptable.

Is the Term For Free Grammatically Acceptable?

Strict grammarians assert that the term for free is grammatically incorrect. According to them, the example below is wrong:
  • Music critics get their records for free so their opinions usually don't matter. (Marilyn Manson)
There are two challenges against for free.

(1) For free is grammatically unsound.

A preposition must sit before something functioning as a noun (i.e., a noun, a pronoun or noun phrase). As free is an adjective, it cannot be preceded by the preposition for.

(2) For free is logically unsound.

Strict grammarians state that for is a shortened version of in exchange for, and free is a shortened version of free of charge. So, if both were expanded to their full versions, we would have in exchange for free of charge, which is nonsensical.

Use For Nothing or Just Free

If we accept that for means in exchange for, then for nothing or just free would be the correct way to write that something is free.

Too Strict in Our Opinion

Here at Grammar Monster, we believe it is too harsh to announce that for free is grammatically incorrect. Over time, language changes, and it is clear that for free is widely used and understood. If you're writing for some real grammar pedants, then try to avoid the term for free. If you're not, then just go ahead and use it.

For Free Is Getting Popular

According to Google's ngram viewer (which searches the texts of millions of books), the term "for free" has recently overtaken "for nothing" and "free of charge". (Here's the evidence.)