I couldn’t come up with anything fun to write about this morning, but one of my students, a wonderful Renaissance Man, asked me this:
“Is it ungrammatical to say that someone can have something “for free”?
HUH! I don’t know!
We do say that we can buy something “for” this or that much money; “I bought my car for 16, 000 dollars,” for example, or “the grocery store has a special on oranges; four for a dollar.” The word “for,” in this case, is a preposition that means “in consideration or payment of;” we trade this (money) for that (the car or the oranges).
Free is an adjective – it describes something; it’s not a quantity or a noun. Something either is or is not free; I don’t exchange “free” for something else.
I told my student that I really didn’t know the answer to his question, but that I’d put it to some smart friends of mine (that’s YOU!). What do you think? I understand that it’s descriptively grammatical – we say it all the time – but is it prescriptively grammatical? If we look at it from a standpoint of pure structure, is it correct to say that you can have this “for free”?