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“In your debt”

A friend was thankful for a gift I gave him today and said to me, “I am in your debt. No, wait... you are in my debt. Thanks.”

I am now thinking about the meaning of these idioms. We’ve all heard variants of this (not using the word “indebted”):

1: “I am in your debt.” 2: “You are in my debt.” 3: “I am in debt to you. 4: “You are in debt to me.”

I am now unclear if the users of these phrases are using them correctly. Whom owes whom? Right now, I am seeing it like this: 1: Speaker is stating that listener owes something to speaker. 2: Statement that listener owes something to listener. 3: Speaker owes something to listener. 4: Statement that listener owes something to speaker.

Are these correct? Are there more clear variants of showing indebtedness (I now open the subject up to using the word “indebted”)?

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INDEBTED tends to be used in reference to a moral debt rather than a financial one, eg. if someone does you a favour, helps you etc. and you are grateful, you would say "I am indebted to you".

To be IN DEBT TO someone means you owe them something.

To have someone IN YOUR DEBT means they owe you something.

"I am in your debt." = I owe you.

"You are in my debt." = You owe me.

"I am in debt to you." = I owe you.

"You are in debt to me." = You owe me.

1 and 2 are not commonly heard, and sound rather quaint.

Dave August 23, 2004, 7:56am

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Interesting. Can I get some clarification on numbers 1 and 2 (in both the reply and original)?

Debt is the condition of owing someone something, right? So if I say "You are in my debt" does that not mean "I have debt that you are included in?" Or the first one, wouldn't that be saying "You are in the condition of owing, and I am included in it?"

I agree on the last two examples, though. They are clear.

clarity August 23, 2004, 9:29am

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1 & 2 would mean what you suggest if language was logical and literal, but alas, it rarely is!

Dave August 23, 2004, 12:55pm

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Yes     No