Gift (as a verb)

The use of gift as a verb is not new, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which lists examples of gift used to mean to make a present of from as early as the 17th century. Yet Google uncovers numerous web pages devoted to griping about this use of the word, suggesting that it is a fairly common usage peeve. The main gripes are that gift is inferior to give in the sense to make a present of, and that using gift this way unnecessarily contorts a perfectly good word for use in place of another perfectly good word.

Using gift as a verb is perhaps justifiable when it conveys shades of meaning that the more general give might not get across. For example, if I were to say, “I gave my daughter a kitten,” you might think I decided out of the blue one day to bring home a kitten. But if I were to say, “I gifted my daughter a kitten,” you would know the kitten was probably a gift for her birthday or some other gift-giving occasion. It’s a meaningful distinction—though, of course, I could always just say, “I gave my daughter a kitten for her birthday.”

In any case, many people who pay attention to these things have an odd aversion to the use of words outside their conventional part-of-speech roles—adjectives used as nouns, nouns used as verbs, and so on. But this sort of thing has gone on throughout the history of English—and no doubt it has always peeved some small percentage of the people living through any given change—and it’s one of the qualities that gives English its color and versatility. Resistance to new uses of words is understandable, but any insistence that new uses of words are simply wrong is based on an unrealistic view of how English is supposed to work. Of course, personal taste is another matter, and no one is ever forced to adopt a word he or she doesn’t like.

Incidentally, there is a second, less controversial verb sense of gift: namely, to bestow with gifts, the gifts here being talents, skills, powers, and other positive qualities. The word in this sense usually appears in the participial form—e.g., “She is gifted with great musical ability.”

Examples

This year’s Monday Night Football schedule has not seen fit to gift viewers with watchable games between relevant teams. [Wall Street Journal]

If Abraham loves his son, he must not gift him to God, but if he loves God, he must give up his son Isaac. [Modernism and Mourning, Patricia Ray]

Gifting of Kindle books rose 175 per cent from a year earlier in the period from November 25th to Christmas Day. [Irish Times]

Her famous father has done more than gift her with an amazing wardrobe. [Women's Health]

In 1919, he gifted one-third of his Kodak stock — worth roughly $10 million at the time — to employees. [Stuff.co.nz]

Other resources

Grammar Girl discusses the history of gift as a verb.

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