« Ubiquitous song titles | Main | Confusion in Oxford »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Barrie  England

Can we not say that 'free', along with 'ever', 'good' and 'sure', becomes a noun by virtue of its being preceded by a preposition?

For an instance of where a split infinitive is certainly not grammatical, see, if you haven't already, Geoffrey Pullum at http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2658.


I don't think there is always a "logical" explanation for the phrases used to express concepts. In the specific case of for free, I do not believe for one second that speakers created this analogically from expressions such as "for 10 euros". I think it was deliberately concocted to sound odd and trendy but gradually lost these qualities of novelty and became the normal form for many people.

One could quote other examples such as the expression "I am like" to replace "I said". I do not think you can find a correct structure from which this twisted locution has been formed by analogy.

New generations produce new ideas and invent new speech forms with which to express them, the more different these are and the more shocking, the better, because language, as well as being a mode of communication is also a powerful discriminator between social groups.

I don't think Spanish students are alone in requiring hard and fast right-wrong linguistic judgements. I think all language learners share this desire. In the early stages of language acquisition, the last thing you want to hear is that "This is a grey area". You want to know exactly what to say in the given situation so that you can confidently say it. Later, you enjoy playing with different forms but in the beginning you need certainty.

Finally, I think the influence of the old Latin grammarians still sometimes weighs heavily on us, tempting us to think that we can somehow generate all correct phrases of the language using a set of definite rules and that any phrase that cannot be so generated must be "wrong". Language isn't like that. Language reveals certain patterns, yes, but swells its store of useful expressions by an imaginative accretion of words. Successful expressions live on and unsuccessful ones die. Grammatical correctness has little to do with either their survival or their demise.


I think Barrie's got it. I was going to say that it's about functional shift, which is about English becoming more analytical. cf arguments about nouns becoming verbs. As you shift the position of the word, you change its function. 'Free' may have originally been shifted to noun position here by analogy (for nothing et al) but this kind of functional shift is not inherently 'ungrammatical'. That's not to say it may not sound odd to some people. That said, 'for free' can now surely be regarded as a lexicalised phrase.

Peter Harvey

We could say that 'free', 'ever', 'good' and 'sure', become nouns, or that we have compound adverbs in the way that 'out of' is a compound preposition. I don't really mind. When you're describing something you give it a name.

B A Le Carpentier

"For free" simply sounds wrong and stamps the perpetrator as naff.

Peter Harvey

You are entitled you your opinion, but many expressions about which similar things have been said in the past are now regarded as unobjectionable parts of the language.


It is clearly incorrect. Many people are starting to think and believe that if enough people use incorrect grammar, it becomes correct! Something being "for free" makes as much sense as something being "for expensive".


I wrote to the famous (now deceased) grammarian James J. Kilpatrick about this, back in 2005.

He wrote back, "You're right, of course: 'for free' is a syntactical abomination. It has been an abomination for at least 30 years.

Sincerely, James J. Kilpatrick

My own understanding of it is this: the word 'for' should precede a commodity, such as "for a doller", or, "for 25 cents", or, "for a chicken".

But the word 'free' is not a commodity. In fact, it is expressly the absence of a commodity.

You wouldn't say, "for expensive", would you? No. You wouldn't.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Follow this blog with mobile-friendly emails

  • Enter your Email:
    Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Buying Lavengro Books