It’d be easy if we always used the word free to talk about things that don’t cost anything.
This, however, isn’t the case. In English, we use a number of expressions to talk about things that can be obtained without payment.
Here are ten terms that you are likely to come across, along with some examples of their use.
We can use complimentary to talk about something provided for free, often as a gift.
Some collocations you may hear with complimentary include complimentary breakfast, complimentary gift, complimentary coffee, complimentary tea, complimentary shuttle, complimentary transportation, complimentary WiFi, complimentary food and drink, complimentary admission, complimentary samples, complimentary refreshments, complimentary parking, complimentary access (to a website, for example), complimentary classes, complimentary services, and complimentary newspaper.
“Everyone who attends the convention will get a complimentary gift.”
“The best part about staying at a five-star hotel is all the complimentary services.”
free of charge
We use free of charge to communicate that something can be obtained without any payment.
“Students may visit the art gallery free of charge on weekdays.”
“I think more colleges and universities should offer their course materials free of charge.”
at no cost
At no cost is similar to free of charge. We use it to communicate that something can be obtained without any payment.
“Almost all public schools provide transportation at no cost.”
“Reading in English doesn’t have to be expensive. You can download thousands of e-books at no cost.”
We use for nothing to communicate that something is being provided without payment of any kind.
“She’s a great teacher and really passionate about what she does. I feel like she’d probably teach for nothing.”
“I can’t believe you gave away that sofa for nothing. You could have gotten hundreds of dollars for it.”
on the house
We use on the house to communicate that a bar, restaurant, or other establishment is offering something for free (usually food or drinks).
“Bill is going to lose his job if he keeps giving his friends drinks on the house.”
“If you sign up for a rewards card at the casino, you can play slots on the house.”
We use courtesy to talk about something (often transportation) that is provided for free to existing customers.
Some collocations with courtesy include courtesy car, courtesy shuttle, and courtesy vehicle.
“Many hotels in Orlando offer a courtesy shuttle to major theme parks.”
“The car dealership gave us a courtesy car while they were making repairs on my vehicle.”
Comp is an abbreviated form of complimentary. We mostly use this term to talk about something that a casino gives to frequent gamblers. It can be used as both an adjective and a verb.
“After we finish playing blackjack, let’s use our comp dollars to get dinner.” (used as an adjective)
“The casino comped John a room for the weekend.” (used as a verb)
We use perk to mean (a) something extra that someone receives in addition to regular pay for doing a job, or (b) a good thing that you have or get because of your situation. (Merriam-Webster)
⋅ The salary isn’t great, but the perks are phenomenal. I get health care, a gym membership, five weeks’ vacation, and free breakfast on Fridays.
⋅ Mark got accepted to a prestigious university even though his grades weren’t that great. I guess that is one of the perks of being related to a US Senator.
We use freebie to talk about things companies and organizations give away for free, normally as a way of gaining support or attracting customers.
“When I worked in purchasing, my vendors would often send me freebies in the mail.”
“Giving away freebies such as t-shirts, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs, can be a good way to promote your brand.”
We use handout to talk about something (such as food or money) given to people in need. This term is often used disapprovingly.
“His family is very proud. They won’t accept handouts from anyone.”
“Unemployment benefits are controversial. Some people see them necessary government program, while others view them as useless government handouts.”
Try one of these terms the next time you want to say that something is free.
For more better ways to say overused terms, see these articles on synonyms.