Which word is more appropriate – gratis vs free

I am looking for a ____ software to help me do something.

Is “gratis” more suitable than “free”?


First, software is uncountable, so “a ____ software” is not correct. Either say:

  • ____ software
  • a piece of ____ software
  • a ____ program

This is a complex question. Here are some facts:

  • Most English speakers do not commonly use the word gratis, but (I think) most people will probably understand what it means. Generally, when we talk about a zero-cost item, we use the word “free”. Usually, gratis describes a zero-cost service, especially in a legal context.

  • The English word “free” can mean either “zero cost” or “liberated; not oppressed or controlled” (“free beer” versus “free speech” or “a nation of free people“)

  • The Free Software Foundation (FSF) advises that people use the adjective “free” with “software” only when you mean “related to freedom” (i.e., for software that can be freely shared and modified, according to the FSF’s definition). People who agree with the FSF’s suggestion do not use “free” to refer to software price, because it can be confused with the “freedom” meaning of “free”. Instead, those people use freeware or gratis to describe zero-cost software.

What word you should use depends on two factors:

  • what kind of “free” you mean (zero-cost or freedom-granting)
  • whether you care about the FSF’s suggestion to reserve “free software” for software that can be freely shared and changed

Here’s a chart showing what word to use:

                               | Zero-cost                 |  Free to share/edit
I care what the FSF says       | "gratis" or "freeware"    |  "free" or "libre"
I don't care what the FSF says | "free"                    |  "free"

Note that the bottom-right box is not likely to be needed: if you don’t care what the FSF has to say, you probably don’t need a word to describe their particular definition of “freedom-respecting” software.

Note also that “libre” is not a standard English word. It is used exclusively by people talking about software freedom, and it would not be understood by someone who has never heard of the FSF’s definition of “free software”.

Source : Link , Question Author : user275517 , Answer Author : apsillers

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