‘Obliged’ vs. ‘obligated’ in English

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

The only verb form of “obligation” that is traditionally considered correct is oblige, not “obligate”, so you cannot make a mistake by only using obliged and avoiding “obligated” altogether. That being said, there are a few things to consider.

The form “obligated” is almost never heard in formal British English, and it is usually considered to be an Americanism. However, in American English and colloquial British English, “obligated” can be quite commonly heard in place of “obliged”.

Some dictionaries of American English tag “obligated” as a synonym for “obliged”, but this does not seem to agree with actual usage; the word “obliged” has two different meanings, but only one of them can be expressed by “obligated”.

“Obliged” can mean “having a binding obligation”, “being required to do something”, as in

Since it wouldn’t be a treaty, the White House is not obliged to submit the nuclear deal for congressional approval.

In this sense, “obliged” can be (and commonly is) replaced by “obligated” in American English:

Since it wouldn’t be a treaty, the White House is not obligated to submit the nuclear deal for congressional approval.

However, “obliged” can also be used to express thanks to somebody who did something for you. It expresses your perceived moral obligation to do something for them in return:

I am obliged to you for helping us.

“Obliged” is not normally replaced by “obligated” in this case, even in American English. If you speak or learn American English and are not sure which one to use in a given situation, go for “obliged”, which is acceptable in either case.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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