In the last episode of the Vikings, one of the characters said:

You are smart. I will give you that.

But would it not be more suitable "I have to hand it to you"? I thought that "I will give you that" is used when I admit that someone is partially right, for example. How would the meaning change if the other was used there?

  • It would not, unless there was some very specific context to prove otherwise.
    – user45266
    Jan 25, 2019 at 0:13

1 Answer 1


These two idioms have slightly different meanings:

I have to hand it to you.

I don't generally hold you or your skills in high esteem, but on this occasion, I can see you did a good job, and I admire you for it. (Can also be used affectionately or teasingly, where you don't really mean that you think the other person has low skill)

I'll give you that.

I don't generally agree with you or your arguments, but on this occasion, what you said was correct. Alternatively, I admit that I was wrong and you are right.

As you can see above, one of the expressions relates to what someone has done, while the other relates to an argument or a statement. So, without knowing any of the surrounding context, here's how I would interpret the two statements.

You are smart. I have to hand it to you.

"I have seen you do something that requires intelligence, and I did not previously think you were capable of the task. Good job!"


"I have seen you do something that requires intelligence. I'm teasing you that because you are intelligent, I'm implying there's nothing else good about you. I don't really mean it, and I like you a lot. We are good friends."

You are smart. I'll give you that.

"I may not agree with you most of the time, but I admit you are intelligent."


"I don't think you have many positive traits, however, I admit you do have at least one positive trait: your intelligence." (Alternatively, this could also be an affectionate tease by implying you think the other person has few positive traits when you don't really mean it)

Without knowing the full context of the relationship between the two characters, and the situation where this was said, I can't be certain which of these interpretations is correct, but I'm pretty certain it's one of these meanings.

  • Thanks, so I should not use either of those to e.g. praise my colleague at work as it would imply I did not think much of their skills before, right?
    – John V
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:03
  • It depends... "I have to hand it to you" either implies you didn't think much of their skills previously, or that you think the task they accomplished was superhuman. Either way, you didn't think they could do it, but they could. It's a balancing act, and I would avoid using the idiom if you aren't completely sure where the line between admiring and insulting is. As for "I'll give you that", it's not not usually insulting to disagree with a colleague. Good working relationships can often have disagreements about methods to approach a problem. Jan 25, 2019 at 7:13
  • Yes I mean a situation where a particular task was difficult and they did it well, maybe exceeded my expectations which I would have had about about anyone approaching that problem. Could I use the first without implying anything negative?
    – John V
    Jan 25, 2019 at 7:22

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