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See also: -free



From Middle English free, fre, freo, from Old English frēo (free), from Proto-Germanic *frijaz (beloved, not in bondage), from Proto-Indo-European *preyH- (dear, beloved, to be fond of). Related to friend. Cognate with West Frisian frij (free), Dutch vrij (free), Low German free (free), German frei (free) and Friede (peace), Danish and Norwegian fri (free).

Germanic and Celtic are the only Indo-European language branches in which the PIE word with the meaning of "dear, beloved" acquired the additional meaning of "free" in the sense of "not in bondage". This was an extension of the idea of "characteristic of those who are dear and beloved", in other words friends and tribe members (in contrast to unfree inhabitants from other tribes and prisoners of war, many of which were among the slaves – compare the Latin use of liberi to mean both "free persons" and "children of a family").[1][2]

The verb comes from Middle English freen, freoȝen, from Old English frēon, frēoġan (to free; make free).


  • IPA(key): /fɹiː/
  • (file)
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -iː
A sign advertising free beer (obtainable without payment)
A "buy one get one free" sign at a flower stand (obtainable without additional payment)
This food product is labelled "fat free", meaning it contains no fat


free (comparative freer, superlative freest)

  1. (social) Unconstrained.
    He was given free rein to do whatever he wanted.
    • 1899, Stephen Crane, chapter 1, in Twelve O'Clock:
      There was some laughter, and Roddle was left free to expand his ideas on the periodic visits of cowboys to the town. “Mason Rickets, he had ten big punkins a-sittin' in front of his store, an' them fellers from the Upside-down-F ranch shot 'em up […].”
    • 2013 August 10, Schumpeter, “Cronies and capitols”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8848:
      Policing the relationship between government and business in a free society is difficult. Businesspeople have every right to lobby governments, and civil servants to take jobs in the private sector.
    Synonyms: unconstrained, unfettered, unhindered
    Antonyms: constrained, restricted
    1. Not imprisoned or enslaved.
      a free man
      Antonyms: bound, enslaved, imprisoned
    2. Unconstrained by timidity or distrust; unreserved; frank; communicative.
      • (Can we date this quote?), Milward, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
        He was free only with a few.
    3. Generous; liberal.
      He's very free with his money.
    4. (obsolete) Clear of offence or crime; guiltless; innocent.
      • (Can we date this quote?), John Dryden, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
        My hands are guilty, but my heart is free.
    5. Without obligations.
      free time
    6. Thrown open, or made accessible, to all; to be enjoyed without limitations; unrestricted; not obstructed, engrossed, or appropriated; open; said of a thing to be possessed or enjoyed.
      a free school
      • (Can we date this quote?), William Shakespeare, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
        Why, sir, I pray, are not the streets as free / For me as for you?
    7. Not arbitrary or despotic; assuring liberty; defending individual rights against encroachment by any person or class; instituted by a free people; said of a government, institutions, etc.
      This is a free country.
    8. (software) With no or only freedom-preserving limitations on distribution or modification.
      OpenOffice is free software.
      Synonyms: libre
      Antonyms: proprietary
    9. (software) Intended for release, as opposed to a checked version.
  2. Obtainable without any payment.
    The government provides free health care.
    • 2013 July 20, “The attack of the MOOCs”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8845:
      Since the launch early last year of […] two Silicon Valley start-ups offering free education through MOOCs, massive open online courses, the ivory towers of academia have been shaken to their foundations. University brands built in some cases over centuries have been forced to contemplate the possibility that information technology will rapidly make their existing business model obsolete.
    Synonyms: free of charge, gratis
    1. (by extension, chiefly advertising slang) Obtainable without additional payment, as a bonus given when paying for something else.
      Buy a TV to get a free DVD player!
  3. (abstract) Unconstrained.
    1. (mathematics) Unconstrained by relators.
      the free group on three generators
    2. (mathematics, logic) Unconstrained by quantifiers.
      is the free variable in .
      Antonyms: bound
    3. (programming) Of identifiers, not bound.
      Synonyms: unbound
      Antonyms: bound
    4. (of a morpheme) That can be used by itself, unattached to another morpheme.
  4. (physical) Unconstrained.
    1. Unobstructed, without blockages.
      the drain was free
      Synonyms: clear, unobstructed
      Antonyms: blocked, obstructed
    2. Unattached or uncombined.
      a free radical
    3. Not currently in use; not taken; unoccupied.
      You can sit on this chair; it's free.
    4. (botany, mycology) Not attached; loose.
      In this group of mushrooms, the gills are free.
      • 1992, Rudolf M. Schuster, The Hepaticae and Anthocerotae of North America: East of the Hundredth Meridian, volume V, page 7
        Furthermore, the free anterior margin of the lobule is arched toward the lobe and is often involute []
  5. Without; not containing (what is specified); exempt; clear; liberated.
    We had a wholesome, filling meal, free of meat.  I would like to live free from care in the mountains.
    • (Can we date this quote?), Bishop Burnet, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      princes declaring themselves free from the obligations of their treaties
    • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 4, in The Celebrity:
      One morning I had been driven to the precarious refuge afforded by the steps of the inn, after rejecting offers from the Celebrity to join him in a variety of amusements. But even here I was not free from interruption, for he was seated on a horse-block below me, playing with a fox terrier.
    Synonyms: without
  6. (dated) Ready; eager; acting without spurring or whipping; spirited.
    a free horse
  7. (dated) Invested with a particular freedom or franchise; enjoying certain immunities or privileges; admitted to special rights; followed by of.
    • (Can we date this quote?), John Dryden, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      He therefore makes all birds, of every sect, / Free of his farm.
  8. (Britain, law, obsolete) Certain or honourable; the opposite of base.
    free service;  free socage
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Burrill to this entry?)
  9. (law) Privileged or individual; the opposite of common.
    a free fishery;  a free warren
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Burrill to this entry?)


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The terms below need to be checked and allocated to the definitions (senses) of the headword above. Each term should appear in the sense for which it is appropriate. Use the templates {{syn|en|...}} or {{ant|en|...}} to add them to the appropriate sense(s).

Derived terms

Related terms



free (comparative more free, superlative most free)

  1. Without needing to pay.
    I got this bike free.
    Synonyms: for free, for nothing
  2. (obsolete) Freely; willingly.
    • c. 1601–1602, Henry VIII, published 1623:
      I as free forgive you / As I would be forgiven.



A painting depicting mythical Greek hero Perseus freeing Andromeda, who was imprisoned by a sea monster

free (third-person singular simple present frees, present participle freeing, simple past and past participle freed)

  1. (transitive) To make free; set at liberty; release; rid of that which confines, limits, embarrasses, or oppresses.




free (plural frees)

  1. (Australian rules football, Gaelic football) Abbreviation of free kick.
    • 2006, [1]:
      Whether deserved or not, the free gave Cresswell the chance to cover himself in glory with a shot on goal after the siren.
  2. free transfer
    • 2011 September 21, Sam Lyon, “Man City 2 - 0 Birmingham”, in BBC Sport[2]:
      Hargreaves, who left Manchester United on a free during the summer, drilled a 22-yard beauty to open the scoring.
  3. (hurling) The usual means of restarting play after a foul is committed, where the non-offending team restarts from where the foul was committed.

Usage notes

  • Rank among most common English words: #351 (Gutenburg)



  1. ^ free” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2017.
  2. ^ "frei" in Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache


Low German


From Middle Low German vrîe, variant of vrî, from Old Saxon frī, from Proto-Germanic *frijaz, from Proto-Indo-European *prey (new). Compare Dutch vrij, West Frisian frij, English free, German frei.


free (comparative fre'er, superlative freest)

  1. free


Derived terms

  • Freeheit