Here's an introduction:

  • I love the word precious. It's a wonderful word when you say it to your wife but I wanted to say that she is not simply precious but there just doesn't exist a price to pay for her. Since she can't be sold she is the most precious one.

So, it was awkward when my wife who knows English a lot worse than I do got angry to hear this, "Honey, you're priceless!"

I may have said it without the ! emotion but I intended to say that she is 'precious' and not 'free'.

So the question is: can "priceless" ever mean "free of charge"?

  • 1
    I have never seen "priceless" as "free" in any text or etc.. Where did you encounter this definition.
    – Cardinal
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 20:06
  • 1
    @Cardinal - It sounds to me like he encountered this definition from his wife.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 21:52
  • @J.R. Oh my bad, I didn't read that line. Sorry SovereignSun.
    – Cardinal
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 22:26
  • I just want to ask the same question. It was hard for me to understand that a precious thing is said priceless as "less" is commonly referred to "nothing". But this time is seems different based on the answer you accepted. Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 15:54

4 Answers 4


Priceless means "precious".

"Free" isn't given as a possibility by Oxford Living Dictionaries, and I don't remember hearing it used in that sense.

That said, "priceless" does have a secondary meaning: it can be used to refer to something or someone very amusing. Usually it's probably obvious what you mean by the context and tone of voice, but it's possible that you might be misinterpreted as commending your wife on her humorous qualities (or even as mocking her ridiculousness - "priceless" isn't always a compliment when used in the sense of "amusing").

From Oxford Dictionares:

  1. So precious that its value cannot be determined.

  2. Informal Very amusing.

‘darling, you're priceless!’

  • 1
    That's exactly why I was stunned. She thought that "priceless" means "free of charge". She thought that she doesn't cost even a penny (surely not in Russia). Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 19:42
  • @Leon - SovereignSun is from Russia.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 2:03

"Priceless" is a perfectly valid term of endearment.

As proof, I just tried it on my wife:

Me: Darling, you're priceless.
Her: (with a smile) Aw. Thank you, honey. What makes you say that?
Me: I'm just testing out the word on you to see how you react.

If your wife wanted to be clever, she could play off of the word "priceless" to counter that she's actually very, very expensive. But by default it should be taken as a compliment.

  • I explained it to her later. However, I was wondering whether "priceless" ever meant "without any price" - that is, "free of charge" as I had never stumbled upon this definition of this word. Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 3:42
  • @SovereignSun: Actually yes: I didn't think to check before, but in the full OED, definition 2 of "priceless" is "valueless; worthless". There are two examples, from the 17th and 18th centuries respectively, and there is a third (19th century) citation, but that one is from a dictionary rather than actual use. This definition of "priceless" is marked as "obsolete" and "rare", though. Also, it isn't as old as the primary (still current) definition, which is first attested in 1594.
    – rjpond
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 8:55
  • 1
    Such an experiment probably wouldn't pass muster at the ethics panel :)
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 11:22

For the OP's wife to feel rightly indignated, her husband should have said,

Honey, you're worthless

worthless /ˈwɜrθ lɪs/
without worth; of no use, importance, or value; good-for-nothing:
• a worthless person; • a worthless contract.

  • Can worthless carry a positive connotation? Can it mean precious? Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 19:41
  • @SovereignSun absolutely not. If something or someone is worthless, it is an insult.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 19:43

I wouldn't use priceless to describe a person, because it implies people might have a price, which is generally inappropriate.
priceless should be reserved for things that can be bought. Then said item of excessive value could be considered priceless.

That being said, experiences can be priceless if the situation is something that could have been planned and was very enjoyable. (As described in a series of US TV commercials for a certain major credit card company.)

Also, "That's priceless!" can be used in response to an amusing joke or humorous situation, which may or may not be helpful in your situation.

I don't think most people would use priceless to mean "free" in your context.

I would stay with precious. It also has a romantic connotation that you don't get with priceless. Precious gems also follow this theme.


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