By Akin Ojumu

What’s the difference between gifts and presents? 

Now, I can hear you thinking, “Who cares?”

Well, if you must know, I do.

That I’m even writing a commentary about it should give you a hint on how my mind works. I like to chew the cord on seemingly frivolous things.

Don’t mind me, though. It’s the curiosity in me. And it is driven, chiefly, by a self-realization that I dont know a whole lot. As a result, I’m always overcompensating. So, ever so often, I find myself ruminating on stuff that doesn't even register on the Richter’s scale of the mind of people much smarter than me.

Anyways, I digress. 

Gift or present, what’s the difference? 

Well, thank God for Google. How did we even survive before it?

A few clicks, I landed on Mental Floss. There, I found this interesting article on the subject. For those who may not know it, Mental Floss is a website that presents – or is it gifts? – facts, puzzles, and trivia about any subject under the sun with a bit of humor and levity.

Here’s what they have to say about the difference between gift and present.


It’s that time again when we’re busy buying, wrapping, and giving them. Sometimes we call them gifts, sometimes presents. Is there a difference?

The words come to us from different language families. Gift comes from the old Germanic root for “to give.” It referred to an act of giving, and then, to the thing being given. In Old English it meant the dowry given to a bride’s parents. 

Present comes from the French for "to present." A present is the thing being presented or bestowed. Both words were in use for the idea of something undergoing a transfer of possession without expectation of payment from the 13th century onward.

The words gift and present are well-matched synonyms that mean essentially the same thing, but even well-matched synonyms have their own connotations and distinctive patterns of use. Gift applies to a wider range of situations. Gifts can be talents: You can have the gift of gab, or a musical gift. Gifts can be intangibles: There is the gift of understanding or the gift of a quiet day. We generally don’t use present to describe things like that. 

Presents are more concrete or a bit more, well, present. If your whole family gave donations to your college fund for your birthday, would you say “I got a lot of presents”? It doesn’t exactly sound wrong, but since you never hold these donations in your hand, gifts seem to fit better.

Gift can also be an attributive noun, acting like an adjective to modify another noun. What do you call the type of shop where you can buy presents for people? A gift shop. What do you call the basket of presents that you can have sent to all your employees? A gift basket. 

Present doesn’t work well in this role of describing other nouns. We have gift boxes, gift cards, and gift wrap, not present boxes, present cards, and present wrap.

Gift appears to be used more frequently than present, though it is difficult to get accurate counts, because if you compare occurrences of the noun present with the noun gift, you include that other noun present, meaning the here and now. However, the plural noun presents captures only the word we want. Gifts outnumbers presents in the Corpus of Contemporary American English by four to one.

Still, according to my personal sense of the words, present – though it may not be as common – is more casual sounding than gift. I expect a child to ask Santa Claus for lots and lots of presents, not many, many gifts. 

But whether it’s gifts or presents you prefer, I wish you many and lots this year, of both the tangible and intangible kind.


Well, now that you know the difference, don’t you feel a bit heavier upstairs? And for making you a tad richer in knowledge with this commentary, I hope youd consider sending boxes of gifts and/or presents my way this holiday.


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