What Does ‘Libre’ Mean?

Common adjective related to ‘free’ as in ‘freedom’

Using the Spanish word libre
This egg package shows the use of the words "libre" and "libertad.". Photo by Diogenes; licensed via Creative Commons.

Libre is the most common Spanish adjective for "free"—but it isn't used to refer to something that is available without charge or cost. For that, the word to use almost always is gratis.

Instead, libre, related to words such as "liberate" and "liberty," usually refers to being free in the sense of being free of restraints or sometimes in the sense of being available.

Some examples of its use:

  • En 2016, Argentina celebra 200 años del surgimiento de una nación libre y independiente. (In 2016, Argentina celebrates 200 years of the springing forth of a free and independent nation.)
  • Soy hombre libre. No dependo de nadie. (I'm a free man. I don't depend on anyone.)
  • Seré libre cuando mis padres no estén aquí. (I will be free when my parents aren't here.)
  • ¿Dónde encontrar cosméticos libres de crueldad animal? (Where can I find cosmetics made free of animal cruelty?)
  • Dejaron libres a los cinco presos. (They freed the five prisoners.)
  • No había asiento libre a la vista. (There was not an available (or free) seat in sight.)
  • Hay una diferencia de actitud entre la traducción libre y la traducción literal. (There is a difference in attitude between a free translation and a literal translation.)
  • Todos tienen derecho a respirar aire libre de humo. (Everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free air.)

Phrases Using Libre

An abundance of phrases and idioms use libre. Among the most common:

  • absolución libre — verdict of not guilty
  • aire libre, al aire libre — outdoors
  • amor libre — free love
  • caída libre — free fall
  • dar vía libre — to give permission
  • día libre — day off work or other obligations
  • libre de impuestos — tax-free
  • lucha libre — wrestling
  • mercado libre — free market (an economics term)
  • paso libre — something free of obstacles
  • prensa libre — free press
  • puerto libre — free port
  • software libre — open-source software
  • tiempo libre — free time
  • tiro libre — free throw (as in basketball), free kick (as in soccer)
  • trabajar por libre — to do freelance work

Words Related to Libre

The two verbs most closely related to libre are liberar and librar. Liberar is the more common and usually means to liberate, to release, or to let a person or a animal go free. Librar has a variety of seemingly unrelated meanings including saving someone from danger, drawing a check (monetary instrument), fighting ,and revealing. There are also several related compound nouns including librecambio (free trade), librecambista (advocate of free trade), and librepensador (freethinker).

Other related words include librado (someone who draws or writes a check), liberal (liberal), and libertad (liberty).

Etymology

Libre comes from the Latin liber, which had a similar meaning to libre. From liber came the Latin verb liberare, meaning to set free or liberate. Its past participle, liberatus, became the source of English words such as "liberate" and "liberation."

Other Words for ‘Free’

The other adjective frequently used for "free" is gratis, meaning without cost. As in the third example, gratis can also be used as an adverb. Note that the singular and plural forms of gratis are the same.

  • Este martes la cadena de comida rápida te da desayuno gratis. (This Tuesday the fast-food chain is giving you a free breakfast.)
  • Préstamos de sillas gratis para los bebés. (Loans of free baby seats.)
  • Aquí puedes aparcar tu coche gratis. (Here you can park your car free.)

The phrase exento de, although usually translated as "exempt from," can sometimes be used instead of libre de for "free of":

  • El soporte debe estar limpio y exento de grasa. (The support should be clean and free of grease.)
  • Éste papel no está exento de ácido. (This paper isn't acid-free.)

Finally, it is extremely common to translate the suffix "free" using the preposition sin, meaning "without":

  • En el mercado puedes comprar un amplio surtido de infusiones sin cafeína. (In the market you can buy a large assortment of caffeine-free herbal teas.)
  • La leche deshidratada sin grasa y la leche descremada en polvo son muy similares. (Fat-free dehydrated milk and powdered skim milk are very similar.)
  • Espero que puedas vivir sin ansiedad. (I hope you can live worry-free.)

Key Takeaways

  • Libre is the typical translation for "free" when it used as an adjective for meanings other than being without cost.
  • Gratis is used when referring to something that has no cost.
  • Libre is derived from the verb librar, which is related to the English verb "liberate."