The term quid pro quo is back on the news again. Every time I here it I ask why do English speaking people still use the old Latin phrase instead of a modern English term meaning the same thing?

What is the best English version of quid pro quo?

  • 4
    it's concise and is in the English lexicon.
    – lbf
    Oct 17, 2019 at 23:45
  • 1
    I don't understand. What's wrong with using an expression that has been used in English for over 400 years? Do you have a problem with (for example) the "Latin" word species being used in English too, given that it entered English at about the same time?
    – Laurel
    Oct 17, 2019 at 23:48
  • The term quid pro quo must fill you with deja vue
    – Kris
    Oct 18, 2019 at 0:29
  • 1
    You could always pick an alternative from a thesaurus. Oct 18, 2019 at 3:23
  • 1
    See Meaning of quid pro quo for explanation.
    – Mitch
    Oct 18, 2019 at 12:57

2 Answers 2


The popularity of the expression quid pro quo is probably due to its extensive usage in legal and financial systems and their related TV shows:

If you’re a fan of police or legal procedural TV shows, you’ve probably noticed how suspects in these shows are sometimes offered a reduced sentence or a more lenient treatment in return for information or a confession. That’s a quid pro quo—a situation in which someone does something in exchange for something else. The phrase quid pro quo is commonly used in the legal system, but also in the financial industry, or in politics. So pretty much anywhere exchanges happen.

English Phrases Similar to Quid Pro Quo

The English language doesn’t lack phrases with similar meanings to quid pro quo. If someone says “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” they probably are not talking about scratching backs—they are talking about an arrangement in which a favor is traded for a favor, which is a quid pro quo. You could also say “favor for a favor,” which is another type of deal that’s similar to quid pro quo.

The phrase “tit for tat” is similar to quid pro quo, but with a slightly darker meaning. “Tit for tat” signifies an exchange, but usually in retaliation for something that’s been inflicted upon one of the parties. So if someone insults or hurts you, and you insult or hurt them back, that’s tit for tat.


To your first question, the answer is that there are very few alternative ways of expressing this idea as briefly. If the alternatives in Merriam Webster, for example, most do not really match the meaning or the terseness of quid pro quo (what for what? - the original Latin is interrogative and so is in the language of bargaining!).

But one will do. A trade-off is what a quid pro quo is. Perhaps this is more commonly used in the US. Many of the Latin tags have fallen out of use over the past half century or so. But a few have survived, of which this happens to be one.

  • 2
    "Trade-off" has a different meaning.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 18, 2019 at 0:17
  • @HotLicks Yes, I think I agree. I risked it because I thought it was the nearest you could get that remains short and punchy.
    – Tuffy
    Oct 18, 2019 at 8:00

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