‘Obliged' vs 'Obligated': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Shanea Patterson, updated on February 9, 2023

Is it ‘obliged’ or ‘obligated’? Which one should you use? And what’s the difference between the two? We’ll clear this up in this article, plus you’ll learn how to use both words in a sentence correctly.

Don’t feel like skimming for the answer? Here’s the short one:

  • ‘Obliged’ means to take action as a favor or without a reward.
  • ‘Obligated’ usually has legal and moral aspects, while ‘obliged’ doesn’t necessarily have to.

Never use these two words interchangeably because they mean two different things.

How to Use ‘Obliged’ vs. ‘Obligated’ Correctly

Only use ‘obliged’ when referring to being grateful or when you mean to take action as a favor or without a reward.

‘Obligated’ means being constrained or required legally or morally.

Avoid using these terms interchangeably because they have slightly different meanings, but they don’t qualify as homophones because they don’t sound the same.

‘Obliged’ vs. ‘Obligated’ – What’s the Difference? 

As you just learned, ‘obliged’ means to take action as a favor or without a reward. It can also mean grateful.

‘Obligated’ usually has legal or moral meaning. It means being required to do something.

For example, in The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner feels obliged to make sure he can provide for his son. He’s a father and a husband. So, technically, it’s his legal duty to make sure his son is cared for properly.

In The Blind Side, Leigh Anne Tuohy felt obliged to help Michael Oher find a place to sleep. It wasn’t her legal duty, but she still felt a need and desire to help him.

Definition and Meaning of ‘Oblige’ and ‘Obligated’

Wondering what the dictionary says about these words?

Well, Merriam-Webster defines ‘oblige’ as doing a favor or service for someone or to constrain by physical, moral, or legal force.

The same dictionary defines ‘obligated’ as to bind legally or morally, to commit to meeting an obligation (promise you’ll do something), and biologically needed for survival.

Synonyms of the word include:

  • Coerce
  • Impel
  • Force
  • Press
  • Make
  • Compel
  • Impress
  • Drive
  • Sandbag

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Obliged’ and ‘Obligated’

Let’s talk about pronunciation. Here’s a short guide to teach you how to say them.

  • To pronounce ‘obliged’ correctly, check out its phonetic spelling: uh-BLYJD
  • To pronounce ‘obligated’ correctly, check out its phonetic spelling: OB-luh-gaytehd

How to Use ‘Obliged’ and ‘Obligated’ in a Sentence

Using ‘obliged’ and ‘obligated’ in a sentence should be easy, with the following as examples:


  • My mother asked me to zip up the back of her dress, so I obliged.
  • I was obliged to read my new novel that had just come in the mail.
  • I felt obliged to ask our neighbors to dinner after that sob story.
  • I felt quite obliged to stop and help the driver, who seemed to be stranded on the side of the road.


  • My mom is obligated to take care of me until I move out at 18.
  • I’m not obligated to help you with this project. You’re lucky I’m being nice.
  • My fiancé is obligated to disclose his assets before we sign the prenup.
  • I feel obligated to be nice to my boss because he’s going through a terrible divorce.

Final Thoughts on ‘Obliged’ vs. ‘Obligated’

We’ve been through the trenches and learned all about ‘obliged’ and ‘obligated.’ To recap, we learned that:

  • ‘Obliged’ means to do something as a favor or without a reward.
  • ‘Obligated’ usually has either legal or moral meaning and means to legally or morally bind or to commit to meeting an obligation.

Remember not to use these two words interchangeably because they mean two slightly different things.

If you ever get stuck on anything, you can always pop back over for a quick refresher. We’ve got a bunch of other content on other confusing words and phrases you might see while you’re learning the language. Feel free to check it out.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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