I'm currently trying to describe such a person who would feel very guilty if they didn't repay a small debt or favour through forgetfulness.

e.g. a friend buys the person a drink the last time they met, but the person forgets to return the favour when they meet again.

A one word description preferably, but any help or suggestions would be appreciated.

  • There can be good or bad motivations for such behavior. You want a positive or neutral term? – Spehro Pefhany Aug 5 '15 at 14:37
  • The person feels obliged, and you ask them to not be. – jxh Aug 5 '15 at 15:16
  • An option that also implies the person will be perturbed if they buy a friend a drink and the friend forgets would be keeping score. – Ben W. Aug 5 '15 at 22:46
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    A Lanister. They always pay their debts. – RubberDuck Aug 6 '15 at 0:58

A conscientious person would feel guilty if he/she didn't repay a small debt or favour through forgetfulness.


  • very careful about doing what you are supposed to do : concerned with doing something correctly (MW)
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    To be honest, I'm not convinced the fact of being conscientious particularly implies someone would feel guilty if they didn't do whatever they were supposed to do. They might feel surprised, angry, or disappointed instead. But I suppose my scrupulous is no better in that respect - they both describe behaviour compliant to one's moral code / conscience / scruples, which says nothing about reaction upon failing to meet one's own standards (being the highly specific question OP appears to be asking! :) – FumbleFingers Aug 5 '15 at 19:08
  • (Idiomatically, we use righteous for that specific sense in my neck of the woods, but I doubt the precise usage is widespread! :) – FumbleFingers Aug 5 '15 at 19:10
  • I agree, conscientious and scrupulous both imply an active moral sense which governs one's standards rather than a "reaction" upon failing to meet one's own standards. – Misti Aug 5 '15 at 20:13
  • A conscientious person is simply a very careful person. A conscientious person responsible for counting money would count and recount the stack several times, ensuring accuracy in their count, and might make sure a second person was present. A conscientious person might feel guilty if they did not take care in their duties. However, the word is not specific to "debts" or "favors owed", as the original poster asked. – John Deters Aug 12 '15 at 20:09

scrupulous - having scruples, or moral or ethical standards; having or showing a strict regard for what one considers right; principled (dictionary.reference.com/)

In some contexts, scrupulous can have significantly positive or negative connotations, but scrupulous about repaying debts, for example, can be simply a "value-neutral" description of how someone acts.

Mirroring OP's exact context, Friends And Heroes: The Balkan Trilogy 3, (Olivia Manning, 2011)...

He was ... scrupulous in paying his round. He was equally scrupulous in seeing himself repaid.

(In that context, his scrupulousness is clearly seen as a "social asset" by the speaker).


In the context you provide -- the repayment of debt or favors -- you might call this person:

  • duty-bound
  • creditworthy
  • principled
  • responsible

Obligation (obliged) is the word for someone who is bound to follow a certain course by law or custom. Your rent payment is an obligation, whether or not you remember to pay it, and whether or not you feel guilty for forgetting to pay it.

Beholden is someone who is obligated to follow a course by morals, and might better fit the person and situation you describe.


I believe that returning favours is, at least to some extent, a question of politeness. So, perhaps you could describe the person in question as 'courteous' or 'well mannered'?

Hope this helps

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    Welcome to EL&U. As answers on StackExchange are expected to be definitive, your answer could be improved by providing examples as well as excerpts from dictionary definitions or other references. I encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for further guidance. – choster Aug 5 '15 at 16:10

If the person apologized for such behavior, they would likely be described as thoughtful by the person receiving the apology:

Bob: I'm really sorry I didn't remember to buy you a drink yesterday after you had been so kind as to treat me last month.

Jane: That's very thoughtful of you, but I didn't mean it as a favor to be repaid. I had just won at scratchers and wanted to share the joy.


It's hard to come up with a single term without knowing the person in question because I would be generalizing. There may be different motivations behind such behavior: a cultural and regional habit, insecurity, courtesy, or a "I-don't-owe-you-anything" type of answer.

In the Western Civilization, If this specific person is always anxious to repay any kind of favor, big or small, and feels very guilty if they can't, that is surely pathological and I wouldn't call them "responsible" or "grateful". It is certainly a manifestation of a personality disorder. A "normal" adult might just say a warm "thank you" and not feel guilty. Of course it also depends on the favor itself. There are "favors" and there are "favors".

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    +1, Why this answer has been downvoted?...The others, don't answer the specific question OP seems to be asking. – weakphoneme Aug 5 '15 at 20:30
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    @weakphoneme because "pathological" is just nonsense. I do my best to always repay my debt and would, in fact, feel quite bad if I weren't able to. It stems from my conviction that I should be able to carry my own burdens and not foist them on others. To call that "pathological" is just insulting. – Naltharial Aug 5 '15 at 20:45
  • @Naltharial I suggest that you read my answer again. I never said what you say I said. I'll try to rephrase it: if someone makes a point of returning every favor, big or small, and has strong feelings of guilt when they can't, that is surely pathological. The OP uses the following words: "an urge to repay debts/favors" and "very guilty" – Centaurus Aug 5 '15 at 23:37
  • Isn't that psychological? – Mazura Aug 6 '15 at 7:17

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