quid pro quo

[ kwidproh kwoh ]
/ ˈkwɪd proʊ ˈkwoʊ /
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noun, plural quid pro quos, quids pro quo.
something that is given or taken in return for something else.


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Origin of quid pro quo

1555–65; Latin quid prō quō literally, something for something; see what, pro1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does quid pro quo mean?

Tit for tat. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Or, if you want to get a little fancier, quid pro quo.

This is a Latin-derived expression referring to something done for someone in exchange for something of equal value in return.

Where does quid pro quo come from?

In Latin, quid pro quo literally means “something for something” or “one thing for another.”

The expression was notably used in the Middle Ages by apothecaries who were figuring out what substances may be substituted for another (quid pro quo) in medicines. The phrase was added to a 1535 English translation of Dutch humanist Erasmus, who apparently questioned the questionable quid-pro-quoing of these quacks.

By the late 1500s, quid pro quo spread from medicine into general contexts for a “tit for tat.” A 17th century history on the reign of King Charles, for instance, described Christianity as a quid pro quo in that people must repent for redemption.

Quid pro quo especially made its way into legal, political, and commercial texts by the 19th century, a useful shorthand for all sorts of reciprocal exchanges.

Since the late 20th century in labor law, quid pro quo is widely used as a name for a type of workplace sexual harassment in which an employer holds an employee’s job hostage in return for sexual favors.

How is quid pro quo used in real life?

Quid pro quo can be used as a noun (e.g., we have a quid pro quo with our landlord) or as a modifier (e.g., we have a quid pro quo deal with our client). Either way, the phrase is used in everyday speech and writing generally to mean “trade,” “exchange,” or “agreement.”

In business contexts, quid pro quo can have a positive or neutral connotation, characterizing a fair contract involving the exchange of goods or services for compensation.

In political contexts, however, quid pro quo reeks of corruption, where quid pro quo arrangements with lobbyists suggests bribery or “pay-to-play.”

More examples of quid pro quo:

“Police investigators rolled into the Prime Minister’s Residence Tuesday morning to interrogate Benjamin Netanyahu in the high-profile Bezeq graft probe, having acquired new evidence from a key state’s witness reportedly implicating him in an illicit quid pro quo deal.”
—Raoul Wootliff, The Times of Israel, June, 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use quid pro quo in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for quid pro quo

quid pro quo
/ (ˈkwɪd prəʊ ˈkwəʊ) /

noun plural quid pro quos
a reciprocal exchange
something given in compensation, esp an advantage or object given in exchange for another

Word Origin for quid pro quo

C16: from Latin: something for something
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for quid pro quo

quid pro quo
[ (kwid proh kwoh) ]

A fair exchange; the phrase is most frequently used in diplomacy: “The Chinese may make some concessions on trade, but they will no doubt demand a quid pro quo, so we must be prepared to make concessions too.” From Latin, meaning “something for something.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with quid pro quo

quid pro quo

An equal exchange or substitution, as in I think it should be quid pro quo—you mow the lawn and I'll take you to the movies. This Latin expression, meaning “something for something,” has been used in English since the late 1500s.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.