Is "For Free" Correct Grammar?

by Craig Shrives
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 'for free' grammatical

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.)

See Also

What are nouns? What are pronouns? What are noun phrases? What are prepositions? Ending a sentence with a preposition