Gratis vs. KostenlosWhat's the Difference?

Navigating through the German language, one might stumble upon 'gratis' and 'kostenlos', both translating to 'free' in English. But is there any difference?



If there is a difference between gratis & kostenlos at all, it's a very subtle one: Both mean "free" in English, but gratis often carries an informal, promotional connotation (like a free sample at a store). So, gratis can imply a gift or bonus in a commercial setting, while kostenlos is often used more generally and informally.

Today, we're going to uncover the mystery behind two words that might seem like twins at first glance: gratis and kostenlos. Both of these words translate to "free" in English, but do they really mean the same thing?

Gratis vs. Kostenlos


Gratis is often used to imply that something is given away for free, potentially as part of a promotion or as a complimentary item. It carries a slight connotation of a gift or bonus, something given without expectation of payment or return. For instance, a shop might give away samples of a new product gratis.

Der Kaffee bei der Veranstaltung war gratis.

The coffee at the event was gratis.
Diesen Monat bietet das Fitnessstudio eine gratis Probestunde für neue Mitglieder an.

This month, the gym is offering one gratis trial session for new members.
Ich habe eine gratis Probe des neuen Shampoos erhalten.

I received a gratis sample of the new shampoo.


Kostenlos, on the other hand, simply means that there is no cost associated with the item or service. It is more neutral and focuses on the absence of a financial charge. For example, a public service like a library offering books to read would be kostenlos.

Der Eintritt ins Museum ist dieses Wochenende kostenlos.

Admission to the museum is kostenlos this weekend.
Die Bibliothek bietet kostenlosen Zugang zu allen Büchern.

The library offers kostenlos access to all books.
Sie können die App kostenlos herunterladen.

You can download the app for kostenlos from the App Store.

While both terms are used to denote that no money needs to be exchanged, "gratis" can often have a marketing or promotional nuance, suggesting a special offer, whereas "kostenlos" is straightforwardly about the lack of cost.


Both gratis and kostenlos will save you from spending your pocket money, but the situation and vibe might sway your choice of word. As you keep playing with the German language, you'll start to feel which word fits best in different puzzles.


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