I was told by a native speaker of English that "How much do I have to pay?" should be avoided in a certain situation. For example, after me and my friend ate supper at a restaurant, I went to the washroom. While I was there, he paid everything including mine as it was crowded and some were waiting for the bill to pay. After I came back, I said, "How much do I have to pay?" Do you think it's not appropriate though grammatically correct? Should I have said, "How much do I owe you?" ( This is what he suggested that I should use. ) How different are they?

Thanks for all the comment! I understood what my friend meant by saying, "How much do I have to pay". And I also realized how much one's native language affect the foreign language in its meaning.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Drew, BladorthinTheGrey, tchrist Dec 25 '16 at 20:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Hello and welcome to EL&U. If he considered the bill to have been paid, he might have preferred reimbursement, not payment. Alternatively, he might have objected to the commercial context that pay evokes - with him as the service-provider. Your version can sound mildly disconcerting in a social setting, but the reasons are subjective. Try asking him why he thought your version was inappropriate, then edit your question to include the reason - that would help produce more useful answers. I think this question isn't about "grammar", but about a social usage of the language. – Lawrence Dec 24 '16 at 3:48
  • No, I was told that not by him but the other friend of mine. Later I learned that 'have to pay...' is not appropriate in a certain situation. I just wondered that restaurant case is just the case. – Akihiro Dec 24 '16 at 3:54
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    The objection might also be around the use of "have to" in the sense of a grudging obligation (you don't want to pay, but you have to). It's hard to tell unless the person who objected reveals the reason for the objection. You can try asking your other friend why he or she thought your question was inappropriate in that situation. – Lawrence Dec 24 '16 at 3:59
  • Etiquette is a subtle dance. I think it’s the have to that could imply that your friend’s gesture to pay was summarily turned into an obligation. – Jim Dec 24 '16 at 4:15
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    Both sentences are perfectly well understood and grammatically correct. But How much do I owe you?, to my ear, sounds a little more polite, for the reasons some have suggested. But if the alternative was said by someone whose native language was not English it wouldn't even cross my mind to think of it as impolite - just slightly quaint. – WS2 Dec 24 '16 at 7:40

This isn't a question of usage; it's just that the expression "have to" suggests that you are reluctantly giving in to an imposition. It's a little passive-aggressive. Sure, all I had was the salad and tap-water, and everyone else had the lobster and the Bordeaux, but if I have to pay to keep the peace, fine.

"How much do I owe?" or "What's my share?" would imply that you regard the situation as equitable.


It's situational.

Let's say you and your friends are sitting in a round table at a diner. You all just finished your meal and were given the bill. There is only one bill/receipt and out of your group of friends, only one person is able to read it at any given moment in time, given your seating arrangement. You are then curious to know how much you have to pay in which case it is completely okay to ask "How much do I have to pay?"

Now, take that same situation, but after finishing your meal you visit the washroom. You have reason to believe that while you were in the washroom, the bill was given to your table of friends and paid for. If you are unaware of who picked up your tab you can start with "How much do I have to pay?" to which your friends could respond "Friend A picked up your tab while you were in the washroom." To which you then respond "How much do I owe you, Friend A?"

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