gra·​tu·​i·​tous | \ grə-ˈtü-ə-təs How to pronounce gratuitous (audio) , -ˈtyü- \

Definition of gratuitous

1 : not called for by the circumstances : not necessary, appropriate, or justified : unwarranted a gratuitous insult a gratuitous assumption a movie criticized for gratuitous violence
2a : given unearned or without recompense We mistake the gratuitous blessings of Heaven for the fruits of our own industry.— Roger L'Estrange
b : costing nothing : free It was printed in France at the author's expense, for gratuitous distribution to educators and others.Current Biography
c law : not involving a return benefit, compensation, or consideration has gratuitous permission to pass over private land

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Other Words from gratuitous

gratuitously adverb
gratuitousness noun

These Gratuitous Facts Are Free

Like gratitude, grace, and congratulate, gratuitous is a descendant of the Latin word gratus, which means "pleasing" or "grateful." When gratuitous was first used in the middle of the 17th century, it meant "free" or "given without return benefit or compensation." The extended meaning "done without good reason" or "unwarranted" came about just a few decades later, perhaps from the belief held by some people that one should not give something without getting something in return. Today, that extended meaning is the more common sense, often used in such phrases as "a gratuitous insult" or to describe elements of a story that are not relevant to the plot.

Examples of gratuitous in a Sentence

The film was criticized for its gratuitous violence. they will throw in a gratuitous box of chocolates when you spend $30 or more in their shop
Recent Examples on the Web Still, the irreverence of Jim Carrey's live-action movie (a little of which goes a long way) loomed larger than the wonderful economy of the Chuck Jones animated special, which might explain a gratuitous flatulence gag. Brian Lowry, CNN, "'Dr. Seuss' The Grinch Musical' puts the humbug in the holidays," 10 Dec. 2020 Her colleagues say Johnson leads by example, sets the bar incredibly high, doesn’t offer gratuitous praise, listens and accepts feedback. Cheryl Hall, Dallas News, "Fidelity’s Abby Johnson is rich, powerful — and largely unknown," 13 Dec. 2020 All that pregame chatter about his standout camp seemed like gratuitous fluff. Chris Fedor, cleveland, "How Isaac Okoro’s conversation with J.B. Bickerstaff helped calm early jitters and sparked a majestic fourth quarter turnaround," 13 Dec. 2020 Even as most observers believe that the H-1B visa programme needs to be updated, this sudden action to overhaul it was gratuitous. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India, "A US federal judge has thwarted Trump’s biggest attempt to stifle the H-1B visa," 2 Dec. 2020 Many cannot shake the image—or, for some of the older generation, the personal memories—of the poverty and gratuitous brutality of Mao Zedong’s China. Barbara Demick, The New York Review of Books, "China’s Clampdown on Hong Kong," 3 Nov. 2020 Taking away someone’s right to vote on top of that just seems gratuitous. Danielle Allen, Harper's Magazine, "What’s in a Vote?," 27 Oct. 2020 Following a group of co-eds targeted by a drill-wielding maniac during a sleepover, the movie has all the standard gratuitous nudity and absurd gore, but ends triumphantly when the surviving ladies band together to take their attacker down. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Horror Movies Are for Everyone," 19 Oct. 2020 And yet, there’s a political contingent that astonishingly still seems to find any assessment of scarcity gratuitous. J.c. Pan, The New Republic, "The Devastatingly Low Bar of “Official” Poverty," 15 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'gratuitous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of gratuitous

1617, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for gratuitous

Latin gratuitus, from gratus grateful

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Time Traveler for gratuitous

Time Traveler

The first known use of gratuitous was in 1617

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Last Updated

16 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Gratuitous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for gratuitous


How to pronounce gratuitous (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of gratuitous

formal : not necessary or appropriate


gra·​tu·​i·​tous | \ grə-ˈtü-ə-təs, -ˈtyü- How to pronounce gratuitous (audio) \

Legal Definition of gratuitous

: not involving a return benefit, compensation, or consideration — compare onerous

Other Words from gratuitous

gratuitously adverb

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