The Difference between a Gift and a Present
The giving of gifts and receiving of presents are both actions that make us feel good. We can express the same sentiment when we say we are giving presents or we are receiving gifts; however, it feels more comfortable to say that we give gifts and receive presents. What is the difference between those statements and the two very similar words ? These two words are in fact synonyms, but somehow it sounds better to say “give gifts” and “receive presents.” This could be because gifts have become more widely known as something given freely with no restrictions, while presents are linked to presentations. Gifts can apply to a wider range of situations and the word can be used in abstract terms to refer to talents and abilities while present can refer to a moment in time and the act of being present.
The words gift and present are synonyms that mean essentially the same thing, but even well-matched synonyms that are close in meanings have their own unique connotations. By exploring these different connotations, we can gain a better understanding of the two words and their use in the English language.
- Dictionary meaning:
- Gift—(noun) something given freely
- Gift—(verb) gifted or gifting; the act of giving a gift.
- Gift—(abstract noun) talent, flair, ability.
- Gift—(attributive noun) gift box, gift card, gift shop.
- Parts of speech—using the word in a sentence:
Gift as a noun:
The happy school boy brought a gift for his teacher.
Giving a gift freely brings happiness to the giver and the receiver.
Gift as a verb:
The manager gifted shares to all his employees as an annual bonus.
The act of giving a gift is known as gifted or gifting.
Gift as an abstract noun:
The concert pianist has a real musical gift.
A gift can be a talent, skill, special ability, or power.
Gift as an attributive noun:
The gift shop was full of wonderful toys and games.
The word gift is used here to add value to the noun shop.
- Synonyms: Synonyms for gift include present, donation, favour, alms, and hand-out.
- Idioms and other language uses of gift.
The word gift has its origins in the German word ‘mitgift,’ which relates to the act of freely giving a dowry or gift to the bride.
There are a number of interesting idioms and expressions that relate to the word gift. Idioms/thefreedictionery.com2 refers to several interesting expressions and their origins seen below.
‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’—this expression means that you should not judge the value of a gift. It originated from the practice of looking at a horse’s teeth to determine its value.
‘God’s gift to man’—literally something of value that God has given freely to mankind, but the phrase is used to describe someone who thinks they are better than everyone else.
‘God’s gift to women’—a derisive phrase, a humorous jibe, at a man who considers himself to be very good-looking. An inflated opinion of his good looks.
‘The gift of the gab’—refers to the ability to be able to talk a lot about all kinds of subjects.
‘Beware of Greeks bringing gifts’—this means that you should not trust an opponent who offers to do something nice for you during a competition. It is taken from the story of the Trojan Horse built to trick the Trojans into opening their gates. (From the Trojan Horse in Vergil’s Aeneid.)
‘Free Gift’ is a gift added ‘freely’ to your purchase in a shop. It is a special offer from a promotion or sale in a retail situation used for advertising and gaining customers.
- Dictionary meaning:3
- Present—(noun) something that is given.
- Present —(verb) the act of being with others.
- Present—(grammar) one of three tenses: past, present, and future tense.
- Present—(adjective) relating to time, the present time.
- Present—(medical term) to present symptoms.
- Parts of speech using the word in a sentence:
Present as a noun:
The children gave their dad a present on his birthday.
A tangible gift given for a special occasion—a present.
Present as a verb:
The teacher called for the children and they were all present.
The word present describes the act of the children being present with the teacher.
Present in grammar:
There are three simple tenses used in sentences—past, present, and future—to denote the time when something happens.
When things happen right now it is a moment in time called the present.
Present as an adjective:
The present ruler made the people rich with his fair laws.
The word present describes the person who is currently in power.
Present as a medical term:
“In medicine, the term presenting means not only present, but also seen. For example at birth most babies present head first—their presenting part is their head. It’s the act of being on the scene as well as what is seen.” 4
The term can also refer to symptoms that are noted as part of a diagnosis.
The depressed patient may present symptoms of deprived sleep and loss of appetite.
The word present describes the symptoms shown by a person with depression.
gift, current time, deliver, existence
- Idioms and other uses of present:
Bear in mind that there are two slightly different pronunciations of the word present.
- When the first e in present makes a short vowel sound like the e in egg, the word means a gift.
- When the first e in present makes an ee sound like the ee in peep, then the word refers to the giving of something—to present. The emphasis on the first letter e is different and therefore changes the meaning and use of the word.
There are some interesting phrases using the word present in its capacity as a mark of time.
‘Live in the present’—live in the moment; deal with contemporary events instead of the past or the future.
‘There is no time like the present’—a cliché meaning to do something right now.
‘Present company excepted’—the criticism or comment made about someone or something does not apply to the people listening now.
‘All present and accounted for—everyone or everything is physcally there and accounted for.
‘Know all men by these present’—legal terminology or a document that is made a matter of public record used for gaining “power of attorney where a person with proper legal papers and signature present can sign and speak for another”5
What is the sum of all the presented information?
There could be a lot of debate about when to use the words gift and present. Perhaps this explanation can make the subject a little clearer.
Gifts given at ceremonious occasions should be called presents. We refer to wedding presents or birthday presents on such occasions.
Another rule of thumb: a present is passed between equals or from lower ranks to higher persons, and a gift is viewed as more valuable than a present and is passed from higher to lower ranking persons. Donations to a charity would be considered gifts. Gifts are also bestowed on people and often referred to as a ‘God given gift’. This adds to the use of gifts in the abstract realm.
In the final evaluation, the word present has a larger number of alternative uses. This could be attributed to the ‘time’ aspect of this word. Gift giving evokes positive effects and is “more than just spending; if it is done thoughtfully, it can provide wonderful emotional, social, and spiritual effects on you and your loved ones.”4 However, that is the sum total of the use of the word gift. It is something given. Present can be a synonym of gift, but it also has many other attributes related to time, being present, as well as the present tense. As the saying goes….’no time like the present’.
The reader of these words, gift and present, should be able to discern if the word is being used correctly when they see them in context. Fitting present into the time zone gives the word extra credibility; however, every so often the word present may surprise you with its many meanings and versatility.
Consider the following quote and come to your own conclusion about these two synonyms gift and present.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift.
That’s why we call it the present.”
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