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I know there's a certain word for it in an actual English dictionary that I seem to have forgotten. But what is a person called when they do favors for people only because they want something in return?

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5 Answers 5

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You're looking for a "name" for that person, aren't you?

How about calling him/her a sycophant?

A person who acts obsequiously towards someone important in order to gain advantage.

M-W puts it a bit more bluntly:

a servile self-seeking flatterer


Note that this was not the original meaning of the word.

Also note that this word is to be used chiefly in cases where the person doing the favor(s) is in a somewhat inferior position (in relation to, say, you).

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If you want to sound more formal, you could say that someone is looking for a quid pro quo:

Quid Pro Quo

  1. something that is given to you or done for you in return for something you have given to or done for someone else.
    in politics nobody does something for nothing: there's always a quid pro quo involved

(Merriam-Webster)

A less formal alternative is tit for tat:

noun

  1. with an equivalent given in retaliation, as a blow for a blow, reparteé, etc.: He answered their insults tit for tat.

(Dictionary.com)

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  • Or the less dignified version, tit for tat. Dec 2, 2016 at 18:08
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    @DougWarren Would you mind if I put that into my answer, since it is effectively the same as this answer? Dec 2, 2016 at 18:14
  • I certainly don't mind. Dec 2, 2016 at 18:44
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You could say that the person has an Ulterior Motive:

Ulterior Motive

  • If you say that someone has an ulterior motive for doing something, you believe that they have a hidden reason for doing it

(Collins Dictionary)

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  • This makes them seem very sinister. Dec 2, 2016 at 18:01
  • @BladorthinTheGrey I don't think ulterior motive has a sinister connotation. It just has a selfish one.
    – Hank
    Dec 2, 2016 at 18:03
  • Well, you do it to get an advantage over someone, potentially for a concealed reason (according to Wiktionary) It's not a bad answer, I just think that you should include it as a caveat. Dec 2, 2016 at 18:08
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    @BladorthinTheGrey I don't like to go off Wikipedia definitions. An Ulterior motive is usually secretive, but it doesn't mean that it's always sinister, although it can be. (Merriam Webster) The OP doesn't specify only positive references. The OP kinda seems like it wants to describe a semi-sinister person.
    – Hank
    Dec 2, 2016 at 18:12
  • I don't have a noun, but if you want a verb that's bit more genteel than "sucking up," if you curry favor you seek to "advance yourself through flattery or fawning." (Random House College Dictionary)
    – Airymouse
    Dec 2, 2016 at 18:55
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I would describe someone like that as mercenary: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/mercenary

adjective 1. working or acting merely for money or other reward; venal.

The synonym altruistic in this link is pretty much the exact opposite of what you are looking for.

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I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine would indicate the measure of reciprocity that the OP alludes to in the stated interactions between two people.

I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine:

Idiom -- "You do a favor for me and I'll do a favor for you; if you do something for me that I cannot do for myself, I will do something for you that you cannot do for yourself". (The Free Dictionary)

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  • And so one might call them symbiotic, but that's a bit arcane, and some dictionaries define it as a hypernym of parasitic. Dec 2, 2016 at 23:07

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