"Unentgeglich" is a word I can't find in dictionaries but have heard used. I think I have spelled it right. Can it be used to mean something is cost free?

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    – Carsten S
    May 18, 2016 at 23:09
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    Which meaning of gratuitous are you referring to? Remember there're expressions such as gratuitous violence, where it would be better translated as unnötig, unangebracht, or synonyms along those lines.
    – user21173
    May 19, 2016 at 0:12
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    Leo has the following: dict.leo.org/ende/?lang=en&search=gratuitous free of charge, e.g. service adj. = unentgeltlich, gratis, kostenlos other meanings as Marakai already said can be überflüssig, unnötig, grundlos or unbegründet like in Gratuitous German tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GratuitousGerman
    – LiveWireBT
    May 19, 2016 at 3:15
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    @Marakai, the OP says "cost free".
    – Carsten S
    May 19, 2016 at 7:38
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    Context please! Feb 8, 2018 at 12:51

2 Answers 2


Unentgeltlich (your spelling is a bit off) is the most high-level expression to say something is "for free". It is often used by public administration, you nearly never hear it in everyday speech. Usability is also a bit limited because its only use is like in

Sie erhalten eine unentgeltliche Probepackung


Die Probepackung ist unentgeltlich

is gramatically right, but sounds very odd.

Kostenlos is more on the everyday side, means the same.

Both are used exclusively used saying that something does not cost money

The third one in the range, is umsonst, which can mean that something is for free, but has a second meaning of "in vain" or "useless" - The danger with this word is illustrated by

Meine Schule war kostenlos - Deine anscheinend umsonst

(Could mean both my and your education was for free, but rather targets at the second meaning, saying my education was for free, yours useless)

Despite of this, the last one is the most often used to say something is for free.

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    There's also "gratis".
    – Uwe
    May 19, 2016 at 7:50
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    There's also "kostenfrei", "frei", "nicht kostenpflichtig", "gebühenfrei", "geschenkt", "für nichts", "billig", "ohne Entgelt", "nicht entgeltpflichtig" and maybe a gazillion of other expressions with the same or similar meaning. My answer tries to cover the three most important ones.
    – tofro
    May 19, 2016 at 11:07
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    Not to forget für umme. May 19, 2016 at 12:43
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    für lau - nicht ganz so nah am sprachlichen Abgrund ;)
    – tofro
    May 20, 2016 at 15:50

"Unentgeltlich" is related to German "gratis", which matches the "old school" meaning of "without compensation expected", but which has little to do with how "gratuitous" is commonly used in the english language today (eg in "gratuitous sex and violence", implying a negative judgement) - which would, depending on context, be best translated by "sinnlos", "überflüssig", "verschwenderisch", "willkürlich".

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