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Some people did me a big favour. What should I ask them after their help?

I have tried to ask directly, using the following sentences:

What would you like me to do to pay back what I owe you?
What would you like me to do to make it up for you?

I can only think of two of such ways to ask them; I am not sure if I am rude to do that, but in my culture it seems alright.

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I suspect that the best answer is going to be very specific to the particular dialect: just which version of English is spoken by the person you want to address? –  EnergyNumbers Aug 21 '11 at 19:38
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@StackUnderblow: Would you please consider accepting some answers on your older questions? You'll get 2 points of rep, and it will encourage more users to spend time on your posts. –  simchona Aug 22 '11 at 1:21
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6 Answers

In British English, one standard phrase is:

"How can I ever repay you?"

Bear in mind that although this might sound like it's referring to a financial debt, it's not: it's about paying back a favour with a favour.

You might also say:

"I owe you a big favour: if there's ever anything I can do for you in return, please do just ask"

The first part acknowledges the non-financial debt; the second part shows that you are willing to return the favour.

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In practice I doubt many people would understand "How can I ever repay you?" as a serious question seeking an actual answer. It's a stock phrase meaning "Thank you very much". I think if you actually answered suggesting some quid pro quo, people would probably think you're making a joke, or you're a bit weird. –  FumbleFingers Aug 23 '11 at 21:00
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Why not simply express gratitude and say "Thank you"? Some people just like to do favors with no strings attached, and would like to be acknowledged for that, without thinking that people have a sense of owing them something in return.

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I don't think @David mentioned sex or love at all, so I'm not sure why it matters. –  simchona Aug 23 '11 at 21:46
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+1 for pointing out what seems obvious to me. In many contexts it's positively rude to ask in all seriousness what you can offer in return. It could imply that your benefactor only helped you in expectation of an equal or greater value favour in return, which effectively denies his generosity. –  FumbleFingers Aug 23 '11 at 21:49
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It's unclear from the context whether OP seriously wants his question to be answered. By which I mean the question he's asking of whoever did him a favour, not the question he's asking EL&U.

Per @EnergyNumbers answer, a common "stock phrase" is "How can I ever repay you?". But note that this is not normally a real question to which an answer is expected - any more than you expect someone to tell you about their health if you greet them with "How do you do?".

If on the other hand OP really does want to know what quid pro quo he can offer in return for the favour, I'm afraid he'll need to use some longer form of words. Preferably his own words, since any commonplace expression with such a meaning would almost immediately be overused and come to be seen as a polite rhetorical question.

Noting OP's reference to "his own culture", I'll just add that in my particular culture, a "favour" is something nice you do for someone without expectation of reward. If there is an expectation of reciprocity, I wouldn't call it a favour – I'd call it a bargain or similar.

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@StackUnderblow: You should do me a favour and spend at least as much time reading what I write as I spend writing it in the first place. Possibly more, since you may have some difficulty understanding even the words, let alone the meaning. I'm aware of the US/UK spelling difference, obviously, but if you read my answer again I'm sure you'll see that I had no intention of even calling attention to it - I'm just writing naturally in my native language. –  FumbleFingers Aug 23 '11 at 22:12
    
For what it's worth, I upvoted because of your note about a favor not requiring reward –  simchona Aug 24 '11 at 22:42
    
@simchona: For what it's worth I only bother answering this OP's questions because I have a martyr complex, not for personal gain. Frankly, I think he needs more help than we can offer here, and unless things improve something may need to be done to prevent what amounts to random graffiti all over our site. –  FumbleFingers Aug 24 '11 at 23:01
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Reg said that the mods are aware of this user's actions. –  simchona Aug 24 '11 at 23:02
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You may use the verb 'return' as follows:

I'll return the favour one day.

or you can also say

I hope one day I will reciprocate the favour

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One could say, "Thank you very much. I'd like to do something nice for you."

That is nice, and earnest.

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I agree with the other posters about the propriety of this request. However, if I were in such a situation, I would probably go with something along the lines of:

"How can I repay your generosity?"

Note that in US English, if you put an "ever" in there, as in EnergyNumbers' answer, it suddenly becomes a rhetorical question.

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