gra·​tu·​i·​tous grə-ˈtü-ə-təs How to pronounce gratuitous (audio)
: not called for by the circumstances : not necessary, appropriate, or justified : unwarranted
a gratuitous insult
a gratuitous assumption
a movie criticized for gratuitous violence
: given unearned or without recompense
We mistake the gratuitous blessings of Heaven for the fruits of our own industry.Roger L'Estrange
: costing nothing : free
It was printed in France at the author's expense, for gratuitous distribution to educators and others.Current Biography
law : not involving a return benefit, compensation, or consideration
has gratuitous permission to pass over private land
gratuitously adverb
gratuitousness noun

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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 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, employed, for example, when graphic cruelty depicted in a work of fiction is described as "gratuitous violence," or when unkind words better left unsaid are described as "a gratuitous insult."

Example Sentences

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 Or, is this something that just feels gratuitous or salacious? Jackie Strause, The Hollywood Reporter, 30 Mar. 2023 Cue: one very swanky ball, two very upset best friends, and lots and lots of gratuitous, gluteus butt wiggles. Emlyn Travis,, 24 Mar. 2023 Vanessa Bryant brought this case to trial after filing a lawsuit that accused county sheriff’s and fire department employees of using their personal phones to take and share gratuitous photos of human remains from the crash scene despite having no legitimate business reason for doing so. Cydney Henderson, USA TODAY, 25 Aug. 2022 The ick element isn’t gratuitous. Mark Feeney,, 1 June 2022 The 50-year-old actor—who recently celebrated the milestone by sharing a gratuitous photo of himself eating birthday cake shirtless—appears to have signed the same Faustian pact as similarly ageless stars like Paul Rudd, and is in perhaps the best shape of his career. Philip Ellis, Men's Health, 25 Jan. 2022 According to Reybrouck, music is not gratuitous. Gabe Allen, Discover Magazine, 3 Dec. 2021 During both seasons of Euphoria, Levinson faced criticism for employing often gratuitous nudity in a show about teenagers. Cheyenne Roundtree, Rolling Stone, 1 Mar. 2023 The allotment appears to have been entirely gratuitous. Robert Goulder, Forbes, 13 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'gratuitous.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin gratuitus, from gratus grateful

First Known Use

1617, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of gratuitous was in 1617


Dictionary Entries Near gratuitous

Cite this Entry

“Gratuitous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


: done or provided freely with nothing expected in return
: not called for by the circumstances : unwarranted
a gratuitous insult
gratuitously adverb
gratuitousness noun

Legal Definition


gra·​tu·​i·​tous grə-ˈtü-ə-təs, -ˈtyü- How to pronounce gratuitous (audio)
: not involving a return benefit, compensation, or consideration compare onerous
gratuitously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on gratuitous

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