How to Properly Use the Phrase “Quid Pro Quo” in a Sentence

how to use quid pro quo in a sentence

In English, there is no dearth of phrases or sayings. Some of them are used extensively enough for them to be understood by most speakers of the language, or the terms become part of their everyday parlance. However, there are certain phrases such as “quid pro quo” that not many would be familiar with and, therefore, could struggle to incorporate it into their writings.

To use the phrase “quid pro quo” in a sentence correctly, throw it in when you intend to mean “favor for a favor” or something on those lines. Most importantly, the item, service, or “favor” being traded should be of equivalent value for the phrase to sound correct in a given sentence.

Continue reading to learn more about the phrase, its origin and how it evolved over a period, how the phrase gets used in a variety of sentences, etc. 

quid pro quo dices

Quid Pro Quo – Definition 

Of Latin origin, the phrase “quid pro quo” denotes the exchange of a product or service – wherein the transfer of one is contingent or dependent on the other. A barter transaction is a form of quid pro quo arrangement, for instance.

Phrases with similar meanings as “quid pro quo” are “tit for tat”, “give and take”, etc. When there is more than one exchange, it’s called “quid pro quos”. However, the sense or manner in which “quid pro quo” gets used currently deviates slightly from the original use of the phrase.

The phrase, in Latin, literally means “something for something” or “what for what” – the word “quid” being short for “something”.

Original Usage 

The phrase was originally used in ancient medicine, where it denoted substituting a medicine with another. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase was first documented to be used in the English language around 1535. In that recording, the phrase is described as “one thynge (obsolete spelling of “thing”) for another” – the context being medical. The original Erasmian text described it as a proverb used by poticaries (chemists) and phisions (doctors).

During the sixteenth century, people would head to an apothecary (pharmacist) to get the medications they needed. If the medicine they were looking for was not available, they would look for a substitute – a quid pro quo.

For example, if you have sleeping troubles and cannot get your usual medicine and the pharmacist recommends another sleeping drug, taking the other tablet in lieu of the original medicine is “quid pro quo”. Over a period of time, the phrase’s meaning expanded to encompass all kinds of exchanges, beyond medical.

Alternative, But Rare Definition 

In certain contexts or Latin-based languages, “quid pro quo” could mean a blunder or misunderstanding caused by substituting one thing with another. This alternative definition, however, is rare, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. 

There existed another sense or interpretation for the phrase, which was something like “someone pretending to be someone else that they aren’t”. That meaning, however, died out before it could become common knowledge.

How to Properly Use “Quid Pro Quo” in a Sentence 

Not all English phrases are equally used in both speech and writing. Some are predominantly used in writing and quite a few could be viewed as a tad too casual for usage in formal texts. The phrase “quid pro quo” is not commonly used in speech, but it’s extensively used in writings by people who are knowledgeable enough to use it correctly.

The phrase “quid pro quo” is quite commonly used within the legal setup, and also in politics and the financial sector. The phrase can basically be used anywhere where exchanges can take place.

In English, the phrase is treated as a noun, which means you could use the phrase as it is or alter it to your liking as you would modify any other noun. The phrase can also be used for modifying other nouns. The primary thing to keep in mind when wanting to use the phrase correctly is not using it to mean anything but a trade or an exchange.

On the other hand, if you would like to talk about a trade or exchange of goods that didn’t happen, you may say it didn’t turn out to be a quid pro quo transaction.

quid pro quo definition in dictionary

Phrases Similar to Quid Pro Quo 

As mentioned briefly earlier, “quid pro quo” has quite a few alternate phrases. For example, “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” is a common saying that basically means a trade of favors. It doesn’t mean scratching backs literally. “Favor for a favor” is another saying that is similar to meaning as “quid pro quo”.

The “tit for tat” phrase also has a similar meaning as the “quid pro quo” phrase. However, it has a somewhat darker connotation. “Tit for tat” denotes an exchange, but it’s usually retaliatory in nature. If someone hurts or insults you, and you hurt or insult them back, that’s not “quid pro quo” but “tit for tat”.

A few phrases that could serve as proper replacements for “quid pro quo” are:

  • This for that
  • I’ll help you, you help me
  • Give and take

The above are not necessarily actual or documented English sayings – which means you can come up with or use your own phrases that have similar meanings.

Example Sentences with “Quid Pro Quo” 

Here is a list of sentences that use “quid pro quo”:

  • Carrying on the quid pro quo tradition, the baker always exchanged loaves with the butcher for beef.
  • The suit’s basis was a claim of quid pro quo wherein the woman alleged her services were terminated after she refused to sleep with her boss.  
  • As per the quid pro quo agreement, she agreed to sport the clothes on the ramp for the exposure she would receive in return.
  • You clean my car, and I shall drop you off at school – quid pro quo.
  • Our organization has a particular anti-quid pro quo policy, to mitigate harassment and unfair treatment.
  • There’s the luxurious display of super-rich donors whose funds create a quid pro quo arrangement with the potential leader of the country.
  • The government promised financial assistance as a quid pro quo arrangement if the people ended their protests.

Quid Pro Quo – Legally Speaking 

For “quid pro quo” to be valid as per common law, the good or service being exchanged should be of equivalent value. Otherwise, the equity or legitimacy of the transaction can be questioned. Such exchanges are usually contract-bound. If the items or services being exchanged are not of equal value, a court could find the contract to be nonbinding or invalid.

Moreover, if the agreement looks overly one-sided or unfair, the courts could rule the contract as null and void. A business, individual, or any other transacting party should therefore have proper information about the “quid pro quo” contract’s requirements or what’s expected of the concerned parties as per the agreement.

At times, suspects could be offered a lesser sentence or much more lenient treatment in exchange for a confession or information. Such an understanding between the accused and the lawmakers or law enforcers is also “quid pro quo”.

The (Slightly) Negative Side to “Quid Pro Quo” 

“Quid pro quo” could have negative connotations in certain contexts. The following are some of them:

Unethical Business Exchanges 

In the business or finance world, a “quid pro quo” exchange could lead to conflicts of interest. For instance, a quid pro quo contract between a public company and the research arm of an investment bank could result in the bank altering the rating of the business’ shares in exchange for an underwriting business contract.

“Quid Pro Quo” Harassment 

“Quid pro quo” harassment is seeking favors by taking undue advantage of one’s status or position. For example, a hiring manager or supervisor requiring sex or soliciting sexual favors from a job candidate or employee as an employment condition is “quid pro quo” harassment. It’s not the same as sexual harassment because, with typical sexual abuse at the workplace, the abuser is not promising to offer anything in return.

Political QPQs 

two hands exchange money

In politics, “quid pro quo” has been used for describing unethical practices, such as “I’ll do this for you if you do that for me”. Though unethical, such exchanges are fine or allowed if there is no malfeasance or bribery involved. A dubious QPQ political exchange, for example, is a politician feeling obliged to consider an individual or entity’s interests when drafting certain policies in exchange for the donation received.

Though such an exchange doesn’t always denote a bribe, the mere perception that the politician would take into account the wishes of their donor when voting on legislation or creating a policy is in itself enough to raise some eyebrows.


Generally speaking, “quid pro quo” could be referred to as the simplified version of cashless transactions. When using the phrase in your sentences or texts, however, it’s not that straightforward to incorporate. Some get the phrase’s meaning wrong, and quite a few get the spelling all incorrect.

If you believe using the phrase helps you send across your point a lot more effectively, put in the effort to blend it seamlessly into your sentences. If you’re, however, having trouble with the phrase and there’s enough scope to use alternate phrases (like the ones mentioned above), incorporate those instead.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher is the founder and CEO of The Content Authority. He's one part content manager, one part writing ninja organizer, and two parts leader of top content creators. You don't even want to know what he calls pancakes.

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