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."

Examples of gratuitous in a Sentence

The film was criticized for its gratuitous violence. A local veterinary technician provides gratuitous services to the animal shelter twice a month.
Recent Examples on the Web The topical arguments for investing in biotechnology made in this article were entirely gratuitous. Patrick Skerrett, STAT, 6 Apr. 2024 To include this gratuitous ban in the emergency funding bill is cruel and shameful. Letters To The Editor, The Mercury News, 1 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for gratuitous 

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 20 Apr. 2024.

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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