Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Land of the Free

David H. from Virginia Beach asks:

Which statement is correct? Both?

"I got a new shirt for free."
"I got a new shirt free."

This is a common conversation with my father; he laughs at the commercials that say "You can get this for free."

Thanks for writing, David. There's a simple answer to your question, as well as a complicated one.

The simple answer is both are correct.

The complicated answer is that "for free" is considered an idiom. Like slang, it's slightly less acceptable but not grammatically incorrect. Among the many definitions of free in Webster's Dictionary is "without cost, payment, or charge." To say "I got a new shirt without charge" is appropriate, although ridiculously formal, whereas "I got a new shirt for without charge" sounds retarded. Curiously, if you consider free to be the equivalent of $0.00, then it becomes a noun, and "for free" would seem the correct usage and "free" entirely incorrect. Webster's does not address this. The only noun version of free is given as "people who are free," as in "land of the free." Maybe the Webster's editors just don't like math.