I wonder why all the translation engines show only the word フリー as a translation for the word "free". Why Japanese people had to borrow an english word? Wasn't there anything for free in Japanese history? Does the native Japanese word for "free" exist?

  • 8
    Free as in 無料 or free as in 自由?
    – oals
    Apr 1, 2016 at 17:25
  • 3
    Well, if you count on'yomi as native Japanese, there's 自由{じゆう}, but it was originally created to translate the English word 'free'. Nevertheless it's very common; there's a place called 自由が丘.
    – Angelos
    Apr 1, 2016 at 17:26
  • 6
    The problem lies in "translation engines". Did you try consulting an English to Japanese dictionary?
    – user11589
    Apr 1, 2016 at 17:43
  • 5
    To elaborate slightly on Nothing at all's comment, Sino-Japanese words like 自由 are not technically "native", as they were either borrowed from Chinese or formed from morphemes borrowed from Chinese.
    – user1478
    Apr 1, 2016 at 18:12
  • 2
    自由 is Japanese-made Chinese words. That is not mere Kanji word but the one that has strong impression. That was made from the characters in Buddhism sutra that was translated from Sanskrit into Chinese scripts. When Japanese introduced the concept of 'freedom' from American first in the Meiji period, they made a word with that characters.
    – nariuji
    Apr 1, 2016 at 20:57

3 Answers 3


It's because English "free" has two major meanings which are totally different, and no native Japanese word covers both of the two meanings of "free".

  • Free as in "free WiFi", no charge = 無料
  • Free as in "free speech", liberty = 自由

If you type only "free" to, for example, Google Translate, it can't guess the intended meaning, so it ends up with フリー, which is at least understandable to most Japanese speakers. If you provide a few more words to the program, it can give a better translation. Here are some results I got:

  • free → フリー
  • free WiFi無料のWiFi
  • free call無料通話
  • free speech → 言論の自由
  • free will自由意思
  • 1
    I came to Google Translate driven by a "フリー" word found on this web site: dova-s.jp
    – Paul
    Apr 2, 2016 at 7:34

We often use the word, “フリー” to mean (1) flexible or non-committed, e.g. フリー・サイズ, フリー・タイム、フリー・ランサー、フリー・マーケット (or 青空市場、not “flea market”) and フリー・サービス in place of self-service. (2) no charge, for free, e.g. フリー・シート in place of 自由席、and フリー・チャージ inn place of 無料.

Of course we use “自由,” in such a way as;

最近自由な時間がなくてね – I don’t have enough free time these days.

五体の自由が利かない – lose the physical locomotiveness.

彼は英語を自由自在に話す – He has a very good command of speaking English →He speaks English fluently.

どうぞご自由に – Please help yourself.

But we don’t say “フリー” for “freedom.” We say "自由" for freedom.

The history of "自由" to be used in the meaning of “freedom” is pretty new.

According to blogs. yahoo. jp, it was first used by Hukuzawa Yukichi, an enlightment thinker in Meiji era, and the founder of the Keio University in his famous work “西洋事情 – An Introduction of the Western culture” as the translation of the English word, “freedom.” Before then the word, 自由 was used as a zen terminology to mean the liberation from one’s worldly desire.


値{あたい} is a native Japanese word for price.

Saying "without price" would be equivalent to "for free" in English:

値なく・値なき・値なし・値のない and so on...

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