I’ve brought you a little something: The language of gifts

Nopphon Pattanasri/EyeEm/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

Many of us will have given and received gifts over the holiday period. This post looks at some of the language around this custom.

The nouns gift and present mean the same, though ‘gift’ is slightly more formal. Interestingly, the related verbs have their own characteristics. If you present someone with something, you give it to them in either a formal or a slightly dramatic way. Remember to pronounce the verb with the stress on the second syllable. We don’t usually use the verb gift in everyday contexts, but in legal or business contexts:

They presented her with an enormous bouquet of flowers.

The products featured in this article were gifted to the author by ‘Invogue Beauty’.

When people exchange presents, they give one another gifts, and if they are bearing gifts, they have brought presents with them. If someone showers you with gifts, they give you a lot of presents:

We usually meet up just before Christmas to exchange presents.

The Coopers arrived bearing gifts of home-made cakes and jam.

During the time they were together, he showered her with jewels and furs.

If we want to say that a gift we have brought is small or inexpensive, we might describe it as (just) a little something. People often show appreciation for a gift that is not expensive or not perfect by saying it’s the thought that counts:

I’ve brought you a little something to say thank you for all your help.

The flowers were dead by the time I got them, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts.

A polite way to thank someone for a present but also show that it wasn’t necessary or that you think it is too expensive, is to say You (really) shouldn’t have! Other polite phrases for receiving gifts are What a lovely surprise! or That’s/It’s just what I wanted!

These flowers are for me? Oh, you really shouldn’t have!

A necklace – what a lovely surprise!

Thank you so much for the watch – it’s just what I wanted!

If you get a present you don’t like or want, you might take it back to the shop and exchange it for something else. Alternatively, you could regift it (give it to someone else):

I’ve already got a nice teapot, so I’ll probably take this back and exchange it for some mugs.

If you don’t want the shower gel, you could always regift it.

I hope you don’t need to do this with the gifts you received this year!

17 thoughts on “I’ve brought you a little something: The language of gifts

  1. It’s really amazing think you
    It’s interesting that ‘gift’ as a verb is more formal, but ‘regift’ is commonly used as we would never say ‘represent’ in that context.

  2. Denis

    If you get a present you don’t like or want, you might take it back to the shop and exchange it for something else. Alternatively, you could recollect one nice idiom – ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’. 🙂

  3. Denis

    Dear Liz,
    I’ve got a grammar question that doesn’t have much to do with the topic of the article but which concerns me and, I’m pretty sure, many of other English learners. What preposition should we use in one sentence after two, say, nouns that require different prepositions when there’s no opportunity to use an appropriate preposition with each of these nouns? For example:
    We usually say ‘the necessity of sth FOR sb/sth’ but ‘the importance of sth TO sb/sth’. (Perhaps in this specific example we could also use ‘for’ with ‘importance’, but let’s pretend that ‘to’ is the only option here.) So which preposition would be correct after these two nouns in the following sentence, taking into account that each of them in itself requires a different preposition?
    ‘I know about the necessity and importance of this gift ___ you.’

    1. Liz Walter

      I think we would simply avoid the construction if one of the prepositions was unambiguously incorrect, but prepositions like ‘of’ and ‘for’ are so general that this is unlikely to be a problem.

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