Difference between nonfree and unfree?

I am not a native English Speaker, but I don’t get the point here…

Why are there 2 words for the same meaning or are there differences?

  • nonfree
  • unfree

So please, can someone explain it?




Ah thanks… it is similiar to the german word “umsonst”. You can say: “Es ist umsonst”, but it has 2 meanings in different situations:

  1. It is free of charge.
  2. It was for nothing.

And therefore “kostenlos” is used to express “free of charge” more explicitly.


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Always default to prepending a word with “non-” to negate it and minimize ambiguity.

It doesn’t matter if there’s a “better” word for it, or even a traditional word. ← Unless the alternative is more clear or mandatory.

Using “non-” is a clear negative to the word that follows, and is always the exact negated meaning. It works on nouns and adjectives.

It also works when creating new words not found in any dictionary nor documentation.

Using a hyphen with “non-” also creates a clear visual separator for the reader between the negation and the word itself.

The real confusion in this particular case, I believe, is the ambiguous meaning of “free” itself, not the “un” or “non”.

“Free” can refer to monetary cost, or software license, or personal liberty, etc.

This means that even using “non-free” can mean:

  • non-free: It costs something (money)
  • non-free: It is proprietary software (license)
  • non-free: Lack of personal autonomy or freedom (liberty)

Here’s an example to using “non-” to be less ambiguous in online forums, especially in regards to software:

  • “You don’t need to invoke rsync’s --inplace option on any non-CoW filesystems.”
    – Meaning that any non-CoW file system (negating ZFS and Btrfs) is exempt.

EDIT: To be more clear, what I wrote above mainly concerns global forums (different native speakers) and software troubleshooting and discussion.

If used in daily speech, it might come off as “rigid” and “rough”.

For example, if you’re at a restaurant, you would ask something like:
“Can I order a mild version of the kimchi bowl?”

While not incorrect, it might sound odd to ask:
“Can I order a non-spicy version of the kimchi bowl?”

Using “mild” instead of “non-spicy” sounds cleaner and more fluid, and makes for preferable casual discussion; even though both are technically correct.


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