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

Synonyms for gratuitous


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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 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 Well, there’s nothing like a little gratuitous sincerity after a great deal of inexplicable green glop. Dennis Harvey, Variety, 1 Oct. 2021 Although the titillation can occasionally come off as gratuitous, the video certainly helped Duran Duran gain a toehold in the U.S. -- and established the group as one willing to embrace edgy artistic flourishes. Billboard, 29 July 2021 Boussy was in the right place as a gratuitous bounce put the ball right in front of her. Eric Bem,, 22 Sep. 2021 These decisions were made because at a certain point unflinching can become gratuitous. Rich Brownstein,, 14 Sep. 2021 Adding a young child (played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong) to the throat slashing and blood drinking feels icky in a different but equally gratuitous manner. Brian Lowry, CNN, 8 Sep. 2021 The preceding two-plus hours of this 145-minute slog — Tommy’s threadbare hodgepodge of bad impressions, gratuitous filmmaking, and even worse depictions of mental health — isn’t even a shadow of the real natural woman. Robert Daniels, Vulture, 13 Aug. 2021 By building out the positive aspects of the relationship, by playing to our strengths, and by avoiding gratuitous hostility, the U.S. will be positioned to manage for the best outcome. Frank Lavin, Forbes, 10 Sep. 2021 That a film so grounded in the gratuitous has resonated in 2021 is perhaps not entirely surprising. New York Times, 21 Aug. 2021

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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The first known use of gratuitous was in 1617

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Last Updated

19 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Gratuitous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of gratuitous

: 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

More from Merriam-Webster on gratuitous

Nglish: Translation of gratuitous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of gratuitous for Arabic Speakers


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