The word 'oblige' is tricky to me.

  1. My dictionary says "You will oblige me by taking them" but here I worry that this is another example influenced very much by Japanese culture.. Do you say something like this when you give a thanking present to someone?

  2. I found a sentence in a native dictionary, "He obliged her with a willing attitude", but is it right to think that at least the writer thinks he was nice to her to get something from her in return?

  • 1
    I found the sentence in a book from 1843, The Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, Volume 13: "Allow me to make you a present of a set of confounded books on husbandry ; you will oblige me by taking them, for otherwise I shall burn every one of them." Commented May 12, 2014 at 12:34
  • Thanks for your help. So.. this expression was out of wanting to get rid of them. Just like I worried it might be.
    – karlalou
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 15:34
  • 2
    Do you say something like this when you give a thanking present to someone? Gracious. Not any time in the last 100 years. I might do this in character. In historical reenactment. Commented May 15, 2014 at 20:47

2 Answers 2


"You will oblige me by taking them" is extremely formal, and much more typical of the Victorian era than the modern one. You might still hear someone in the British royalty say something like this.

Your second sentence is much more common. To oblige someone is to do them a favor, not to put them under obligation to do a favor in return. So no, I don't think that the writer was trying to imply getting something in return. ("Put her under obligation" would very much mean that she owed something in return.)

If you look at old Western movies, you'll see cowboys touch their hats and say "Much obliged." That's a way of saying thank you, that still persists to some degree in places like Texas and Arizona. There isn't any sense that the person saying that is under an obligation (beyond that of human obligation to a neighbor) to return the favor, even though that is the essential meaning of the word.

  • 1
    I think that's the way things should be and want to agree with you. I feel like I don't want to use this word myself, but when I hear it I'll think the word is simply from a good heart.
    – karlalou
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 17:45

Looking at the entries in Collins' UK and US, the definitions are fairly explanatory:

  1. to compel by moral, legal, or physical force; constrain
  2. to make indebted for a favor or kindness done; do a favor for
  3. to do a favor or service

As for your examples:

  1. I'm not sure I've ever heard that before, but you could rephrase (with sense 3) as:

    You will do me a favour by taking them

    But it's not idiomatic in my variant of English (Australian; Sydney)

  2. This is sense 1:

    He compelled her with a willing attitude.

    As for the intention of his being nice to her, I'm not sure I can comment on what the writer thought, but it wouldn't be too much of a stretch - people are nice to each other all the time and, at least some of the time, I'm sure it's to get something in return.

  • Thanks for your good advice. I'll stick to dictionary definitions. I like Collins too.
    – karlalou
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 15:24

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