This time of year we are all making our lists and checking them twice. All this holiday shopping got us thinking: where do the words gift and present come from? Why does English use both? It’s not just so that children can ask for toys in multiple ways.
Language is not a linear, predestined development. Even though it may feel as if the language we speak is in some way the logical conclusion of thousands of years of development, every word that we use has a unique, sometimes circuitous history.
The word gift wandered through multiple meanings before arriving at its current common meaning: “something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance.” In Old English, its most dominant meaning was “payment for a wife,” or a dowry. Gift originates in the Proto-Indo-European base ghabh- which came from the Sanskrit word gabhasti meaning “hand or forearm.” (Gabhasti is also the root of the word habit.) While gift became associated only with marriage payments, the related verb give followed a different trajectory of meaning; it denoted the specific act of putting something in someone else’s hands, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Around the 1300s, the word gift began to assume a more general meaning of an object freely given to another person.
But what about its synonym, present? Present was imported into English from Old Norman (also called Old French). Present originally meant the same thing as the adjective present, “being there.” It was used in the French phrase mettre en present, to mean “to offer in the presence of.” By the early 1300s, it became synonymous with the thing being offered. (Present did not acquire the sense of “the present time” until the 1500s.)
A more recent evolution of the term came in the popular word regift. The word refers to the common practice of giving away a gift that you received from someone else, like candles, bubble bath, and ugly slippers.If gift and present do not suffice, you could always use one of these gift-related terms:
When did gifts become an essential part of the Christmas holiday? Learn more about Santa and his sidekicks here.
Do you use gift and present in different ways?
No, I use gift and present synonymously. Something you give someone not requiring something in return OR repayment. Usually to mark an occasion but not necessarily, something you sincerely want that person to have.
Looks like I can present the first Gift on this subject today!
The English translation of the german word “Gift” is poison. How did the two develop so differently?
and can you not also present a gift?
Most people I know use present singularly- “I have to buy them a present-” and gift more formally, or plurally- “Time for the gift exchange!”
When referring to a box wrapped in colorful paper, I use gift and present interchangeably. However, in my line of work (fundraising), we will often refer to donations as “gifts,” but never as “presents.”
i would say its gift
Gift is the German word for poison, so unless I intend to whack somebody, I give presents.
I use present and gift in different ways. If it is a surprise or a birthday/holiday I use the word “present”, but for things I must buy (i.e. mandatory gift for co-workers, apology gift, etc.) I use the word “gift”.
It’s fun to give/gift as well as receive/presents.
I wish I was in Benaras, India now only to know and learn about the term gabhasti (Benaras is the cultural/intellectual capital….)
Gabhasti you see the term is of two syllable: Gab- & -hasti. Forgive me I need to divert a little to state a bit about Bengali, my mother tongue, and Bengali originates from Sanskrit, and back home it is haat (soft t, mind you) is for hand. In the mean time in Sanskrit it is haustau (my spelling because within each and every Sanskrit consonant, there is this au, as in automatic; it is already in there) or hasti/hand (According to me it should be hausti) at a more primitive time, perhaps, when the noted term came into being. However, look at this beauty of gabhasti, it is definately a saundhi/sandhi, as you know the spelling, for the joining of two words prefix gab- and suffix, -hasti. Now if the -hasti is the hand/limb what is the prefix gab-? I can think of nothing but that what is given, which we learned already, gift.
Gab- is given or that is given/gift to someone using some vehicle–hand/-hasti. In Sanskrit that’s how it goes, one is nothing without the other like wheel and carriage etc. So what’s the use of give/gift if we can’t gab-/give/gift using our own two, preferrably, hands/-hasti?
As usual it’s very interesting. And as usual again enjoyed it very much.
Gift always feels a little more formal to me—a child might say, “I got a really cool present this Christmas,” but a donation or formal/political offering would be a gift.
12 years old kids said presents, adults says gift! grow up up gtfo!
‘Gift’ can also be a synonym for ‘talent’. We can refer to a person’s talents as gifts, i.e. as something God or their destiny gave them, but not as presents. Why isn’t it mentioned in the article?
I use both the word present and gift as basically the same word, but I pronounce ‘present’ differently from the context as a gift and the context as ‘to present yourself to the audience’. As a gift, I pronounce the first e as a soft e sound, but as in presenting something, I pronounce the first e as ‘uh’ sound. But when I say ‘presentation’ I still say the first e as the soft e…but, whatever.
I’ve always “given gifts” but “open presents”
I guess to me its a present once its wrapped and put under the tree… not sure why
to me: gift=nicer word, less selfish & unasking (is that a word? it is now!) but present=something little kids might say like “i want my presents!” (yes, rude, i know, but we’ve all been there!) but a teen might say (myself inculded) “may i open my gifts now?”
see the difference?
i agree w/ @vanessa
<3 ya babes! mwah!
Thanks for the input.
I say gift and present
As far as I can recall, I use them both for casual occasions. But when it feels like a more formal occasion, I will most likely only use gift.
I’ll have to start monitoring myself and see if that’s 100% true .
I give gifts and recieve presents …
@Dan German ‘Gift’ for poison?
Well, according to the Duden etymological dictionary it has a similar history as our English ‘gift’, namely something ‘given/presented’ and arrived via Old High-German which of course influenced our Anglo-Saxon origins. The only difference is of course, it was given for different purposes, one highly commendable and other highly condemnable
i think that i woulod rather do presents than anything else cause who doesnt like a good present
hahaha dec 1 was my birthday and i didnt get a gift or present
German ‘Gift’ for English ‘poison’.
I should say, however, that it is our ‘poison’ that has deviated from its course, as ‘poison’ has its origin in the Latin ‘potio’ for ‘potion’ via French ‘poison’. So no obvious ‘gift’ involved here, then, unless it has something to do with ‘giving’ someone a potion
1Ystrdy, th moment I postd my blog on GIFT2 Dictnry.com#dscrepancy:blue hd 8 & dp RED hd 9, so Univ of Toronto do intercept, inspect & release at own whim
2Both #s show same as I came to schl’s DCoLib, after 10am and saw th above said 12, that is blue said 12 & the dp RED too. So, Univ of Tor, what’s gog on!
3In th past I think th Univ of Toronto didn’t post a couple of multiple writgs, cry 4 hlp, 2 Dictnry.com.
4Simultaneous postgs of above three pieces 2 Dictionary.com. Forgive me, please. I see clearly no one cares HERE.., yet still….
I use ‘gift’ more like something I give to someone for a special fancy occasion, like a wedding. I use ‘present’ almost exclusively at Christmas time. Weird, huh. I never thought about that until now.
[...] ‘Gift’ or curse? — ‘Present’ what it is, — whether ‘Lagniappe’ or ‘Succor’ — There need not be a ‘Potlatch’. — For that, we’re none the worse. — ‘Bonhomie’ should never take a holiday — Be a Biker or a Trucker — or any point of ritualistic reference — The ‘Present’ is to Be Here Now — to not anoint but authentic ‘Beneficence’. –>>L.T.Rhyme This entry was posted in DICTCOMHOTWORD, L.T.Rhyme and tagged LT, LTRhyme, the HOT WORD by admin. Bookmark the permalink. [...]
after reading this i realized tht u can gift a present or you can present a gift
“The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift—that’s why they call it ‘the present’” – kung fu panda.
I always thought “present” referred to something physically given, like toys, food, etc. Whereas “gift” could refer to non-physical things,oftentimes thought to be “gifts from god”: examples, the “gift of good luck”, of rainfall during typically dry seasons, etc. Don’t people sometimes refer to their children as gifts?
Great article! Never thought I’d spend this much time thinking about presents! (at least not at this age. Ha!)
A gift can be a blessing, while a present must be an object. The word present is a homonym, but the word gift isn’t.
@Vikhaari: One of my friends is Bengali. (I live in the U.S; land of the diverse mosaic), and she told me some words in Bengali (or Bangla). She said that ‘haat’ is hand, so when reading your post, I felt kind of excited to recognize what you wrote.
@Dieter: Haha. Nice one. (:
I dont know, I just want either one for christmas.
I really love this website. I learn something new everyday.
Hmm… I give gifts. Receive gifts.
I have presents for special occastions because it just sounds more… Romantic? Gifts, everybody get’s those, but only someone special get’s a present.
That’s how I differ them.
Gift sounds a lot like give.
Me and my parents always say gift.
It’s personal but….. I don’t want gifts or presents and I dislike shopping intensely so I don’t want to give gifts or presents. I know Bah Humbug to you guys. If you want to please me don’t give me “stuff”, telephone me and we will laugh and I will enjoy your voices. All this is because I am ancient.
if that was so, i would give my boss a german “Gift”..haha lol xD
I mostly like to give gift and receive present
if it’s something small, i name it a gift. Like giving a friend a gift just because. But if it’s during Christmas or someone’s birthday, I would call it a present
Boxing Day? Oui — Non — Nothing. Woof.
german s poison for gift. scared noww
We in Russia have only one word for this – podarok (something that we ‘darim’ (give for free) to someone)
“Present” is derived from (late) Latin: praesentare = to present, and is the root of (french) présenter, (spanish) presentar, (german) praesentieren et al., and signifies a formal way of giving a gift.
“Gift” is derived from give, (indogerman) Gabe, (Sanscrit) ghab. While in modern german “Gift” means poison, its original meaning of “Gabe” is preserved in “Mitgift” (= Mitgabe = dowry), a present given (along) with the bride away.
By its origin, therefore, “present” (german: Praesént) represents a more formal, elegant, expensive type of “gift” and has preserved this etiquette outside the english language (and perhaps inside it?)
gift when there is no special occasion. present when there is a special occasion.
Both undergone and underwent are acceptable for the past tense of undergo according to dictionary.com. Other sites may vary, but don’t be so mean!
oops sorry. Left comment on wrong article.
For me, while I sometimes use ‘gift’ to mean ‘present,’ I believe they have different meanings. A present is a thing, something tangible. It’s the thing you give or receive. But a gift is from the heart. True gifts are love and time, parts of oneself, that the objects (presents) represent.
If i go by the past meanings… then none of the word fits the gesture or the intention of giving gifts/presents(as interpreted now). What word was used at that time for this gesture for which we now use gift or present?
Gift is something which you receive from someone greater than you, by age or position. By that token, you cannot make a “gift” to someone greater than you. You can only give a “present”. That is why we refer to people as “gifted” (by God perhaps) and not “presented”, when we see some talent in them. Presenting is an act of humility and love. “Present” has both the meanings of “giving” and “being there.” When you “present” or “are present”, it means that you love and respect the person to whom you present or before whom you are present.
I dont kn,let me think about it.
Thanks Vikhaari for your input, and to everyone else. Words are so much. This website is a “gift”.
Uhm—excuse me. . . .I meant to say “so much fun”, which only goes to show how important proofing is.
And, a gift, to me, means no expectation in return; it is unconditional.
i see gift as something given to a known person as a mark of love, respect, celebration…… while present is something given to normally unknown or as an official offering for a work worth commending.
The Anglo-Saxons were very clever in hiding the meaning of words from non-fluent hearers of their language, perhaps in an effort to thwart espionage. The Anglo-Saxon languages sometimes used similar words to convey opposite ideas. For instance host and hostile have the same root and have opposite meanings. Likewise the word “gift”, as has been pointed out in above comments, have had two different ideas attached, and the contrasting ideas survives in modern English and German where the word means “a present” in one language and “poison” in the other.
I use present and pronounced (preezent) as in presentation e.g. the presentation of a power-point. However, I also tend to use it as a synonym for gift, I also use it more often than I use gift. I tend to use the term “present” when I am giving something, and “gift” when I’m receiving something (e.g. “I have a present for you.” and “Oh, you got me a gift? Thank you!”).
cool gift means poison
The way that words and languages evolve is very interesting, to say the least…. thanks for the informative article!
Oh, and I usually use gift and present as synonyms…
“Gift” is a specific legal term of art and there are few things less evocative of Christmas and Goodwill toward Mankind than dragging a bunch of lawyers into the philosophical mix. Therefore, I prefer to convey TOYS or BOODLE. And, all joking aside regarding the German translation of “gift”, let us be thankful that the one left in Koblenz during WWII did not cause more mischief than it did. Peace.
who really cares if gifts are called gifts or presents
“A Trojan Horse has come to mean any trick or stratagem that causes a target to invite a foe into a securely protected bastion or space.” (Wikipedia)
This might supose a ‘fair’ explanation to the german reference “gift” as poison.
I give presents not gifts. My mom told me to call them Gifts but I don’t CARE!
Everything is predestined.
that is intresting
I don’t give a damn about whether to use gift or present, i just use both.
For me it is: presents, presents, and PRESENTS. I rarely use gift, knowing that they may (or may not) mean the same thing
I LOVE SWEET POTATO PIES!
does it really matter i use both
i cant believe it
in philippines, we only use one word for these two english words: “regalo”..they say it came from spaniard people way back 1700ad.
I tend to think that gifts are “smaller” tokens of appriciation given to express emotion. Presents and “larger” gifts typically given for special holidays or Christmas. I mean… listen to all of the songs on the radio, or the adds!
“The best christmas present ever….”
“All i want is a present under my tree…”
I don’t really use either, except when I “have to” get someone a present… I say present, but in my mind, I just said gift. ^-^
Anyway (that’s another, I say differently in my head, anywho), gift seems like a cuter word. Have you noticed how smaller things are usually cuter? Present seems more mandatory… >_<
ReGifting Should be a Crime!! I just found out that the gifts my sister gave to my mother were sent to me by my mother taking credit for them! I called to thank my mother but talked to my sister instead and told her to thank her for all the wonderful gifts and that’s when l found out the truth! Sorry just had to vent!!
you have a gift to your family are son i am sorry just had to vent