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.


8 Answers 8


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.

  • I like the ambiguity of umsonst in this context.
    – starblue
    Jul 28, 2011 at 10:58
  • 2
    +1 for Freibier ;)
    – lootsch
    Mar 20, 2014 at 10:17
  • 'You'll mostly use other words for "free of charge"' - actually, I'd say a construction like '<noun> frei' is quite common and usually refers to something being free of charge. "Eintritt frei", "Getränke frei", "Teilnahme frei" etc. There is just one "conflicting" construction that occurs in quite restricted contexts and that has another meaning, when some kind of stage is ready for action: "Manege frei!"/"Ring frei!" Sep 9, 2020 at 14:59

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.


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

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

  • Für alles muss man Geld hingeben. um auf's gleiche Versmaß zu kommen. Jul 28, 2011 at 11:28
  • "Geld" engt die Bedeutung vielleicht zu sehr ein. Und reimen braucht es sich nicht, das englische Original tut es ja auch nicht.
    – Paul Frost
    Sep 10, 2020 at 14:00

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

If using "umsonst" beware as it can mean in vain, for nothing as well: Meine Schulbildung war kostenlos, deine war umsonst. is a known proverb making use of that.

  • See my comment at Walter Maier-Murdneich. Jul 28, 2011 at 2:22
  • 2
    "nichts ist geschenkt" is quite good, I actually would use that.
    – Baarn
    Jul 28, 2011 at 2:28

In this specific case I would use "umsonst".

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

  • 3
    Umsonst bedeutet auch vergeblich und ist daher gerade in dem Kontext m.E. schlecht. Jul 28, 2011 at 2:21
  • 4
    @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". Jul 28, 2011 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.

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

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


The question is nine years old and has received good answers. So why one more answer? In the context of the song I wouldn't translate "for free" as "kostenlos" or "gratis" etc. I suggest the following translation:

Ein neues Leben -

Was gäbe ich nicht für ein neues Leben!

Eines habe ich auf meinem Lebensweg gelernt:

Alles hat seinen Preis auf diesem Weg.

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