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The obvious translation is "frei." But that is the word related to "freedom, right?

If I wanted to say "free of charge," I'd use another word, like kostenlos. Or would I?

The question comes from another of my German translations of an American song (first verse)

Ein Leben,
Doch ich brauche ein neues Leben.
Und ich lernte früh im Leben,
Nichts ist KOSTENLOS entlang.

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

While it may not fit with your translation, you asked whether frei is just used as in freedom:

You'll mostly use other words for "free of charge", but frei (as in Freibier) may also be used in German instead of kostenlos, even though not as often as in English. You also find this in related contexts, like "Lieferung frei Haus", "Frei parken" (does not mean you can park anywhere (; ) and so on.

Depending on context, however, umsonst does not only mean free or kostenlos, it can also mean vergebens or vergeblich (which aren't translations for free). This is why many people prefer kostenlos over umsonst when indicating that something is free of charge, something you should be aware of.

Specific for your purpose, the others already gave great answers - both umsonst and geschenkt sound good in my opinion. On the other hand, the ambiguity of umsonst between kostenlos and vergeblich may be made on purpose, especially in lyrics.

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I like the ambiguity of umsonst in this context. – starblue Jul 28 '11 at 10:58
+1 for Freibier ;) – lootsch Mar 20 '14 at 10:17

In this specific case I would use "geschenkt":

Nichts ist geschenkt

The meaning is the same as "umsonst" or "gratis", but it's softer and sounds better in this song's lyrics.

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"umsonst" would be the best option. "Man bekommt nichts geschenkt" or "Nichts ist geschenkt" is applicable in that context as well.

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See my comment at Walter Maier-Murdneich. – user unknown Jul 28 '11 at 2:22
"nichts ist geschenkt" is quite good, I actually would use that. – Baarn Jul 28 '11 at 2:28

Und ich lernte früh im Leben,
Für alles muss man Geld hergeben.

Damit es sich reimt ;-) Dank unknown user auch mit Berücksichtigung des Versmaßes.

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Für alles muss man Geld hingeben. um auf's gleiche Versmaß zu kommen. – user unknown Jul 28 '11 at 11:28

In this specific case I would use "umsonst".

"gratis" is possible as well but would sound odd in this case.

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Umsonst bedeutet auch vergeblich und ist daher gerade in dem Kontext m.E. schlecht. – user unknown Jul 28 '11 at 2:21
@user: +1 for pointing this out, but one uses umsonst in such a context nevertheless, a famous example being "umsonst ist der Tod", or the modified version "nicht einmal der Tod ist umsonst". – Hendrik Vogt Jul 28 '11 at 5:26

Lately also the word "kostenfrei" has come into use. Personally I hate it. I don't know where it originated from, it might be a germanized version of the English "free of charge". I don't remember ever having heard that word in my youth, 30 years ago but that might be due to regional usage.

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  • für lau
  • für umme (Herkunft wohl: 'umsonst')

would be examples of jargon, not useful in this context of the poem, but maybe in others.

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