Why A Gift Is Called A Present

For those without birthdays and special occasions between now (October) and the end of the year, the countdown is on for Christmas. And honestly, the eagerness has more to do with the gifts/presents anticipated than anything else. The whole buying, wrapping and giving of gifts is magical for kids and adults.

Think about it; last Christmas did you do anything much after opening the presents under the Christmas tree? Probably not. For this reason, most families have created a tradition of delaying the opening of presents until the 26th.

But that’s not why we’re here. Today we want to know why a gift is called a present. Well, the answer is simple. The two words are synonyms. And unlike other synonyms, they are evenly matched. However, even with the similarities allowing for interchangeable use, the two words have some subtle differences in their connotations and patterns of use.

The origin of the words

The words stem from different languages. The word ‘Gift’ stems from Germanic languages including Frisian, Dutch, German, English and Scandinavian languages. It means ‘to give’. Essentially, it refers to the act of giving and to the item being given. In Old English, ‘Gift’ referred to the dowry given to the bride’s parents.

‘Present’ on the other hand has French roots and means ‘to present’. A present is an item bestowed and can also refer to the act of giving the item. From the 13th century, the two words have been used to denote the idea of an item exchanging possession without payment or the expectation of it in any form.

Their uses

Now let’s get into their different uses. Gifts typically have a wide range of uses. Gifts can be used to mean talents. You can have a musical gift, a basketball gift or anything else. Gifts can also be something intangible, for instance, the gift of knowledge or understanding.

On the flip side, we cannot use ‘present’ in any of these situations. ‘Present’ tends to refer to things that are concrete – things you can touch and feel. For instance, if your family gave a donation to your college fund on a special occasion, saying ‘you received a lot of presents’ doesn’t sound right. Well, it’s not wrong, it just that it sounds a little off since you cannot touch the donations. In this case, ‘gift’ is the ideal word.

Also, ‘Gift’ can be used to modify other nouns. For instance, the type of shop where presents are bought is known as a gift shop. The basket filled with loads of presents and sent to employees is called a gift basket. ‘Gift’ in these cases is used to modify and tell more about the nouns.

However, ‘Present’ can’t be used in the same way. It cannot function as a noun describing and modifying another noun. We have gift cards, gift boxes, and gift wraps and not present cards, present boxes or present wraps.

Also, according to how I understand the connotation of the words, though this may not be the general sense, ‘present’ sounds more casual compared to ‘gift’. This is to mean that I would expect a child to send a letter to Santa requesting for lots of presents and not gifts.

Additionally, I feel ‘gifts’ denote things of more value than presents. And usually, the gift is being passed from a ‘rich’ person to a ‘poor’ or from a person of higher authority to one who is lower. Presents, on the other hand, are exchanged between equals or passed from an inferior to a superior person.


Gift and present giving have been a thing for eons. It’s exciting and endearing. The role it plays in relationships cannot be ignored. And regardless of what you choose to call it, the effect gift giving has remains.

However, for the gift/present to have more impact, you need to spend some time knowing more about the recipient of the gift/present. Know what would light up their world and leverage that in your gift giving, it doesn’t have to be anything that costs a fortune or anything tangible – just something that has sentimental value and you’ll be good to go.

If nothing comes to mind and you are struggling to find the perfect gift, search the internet for gift ideas for fathers, geeks, opera lovers, dog walkers, moms, 7-year-olds or any other category the recipient falls under.