What’s the Difference Between “In Kind” and “In-Kind”?

(Last Updated On: November 4, 2021)

If you’ve ever abided by the “Golden Rule” (to treat others as you’d want to be treated), you’ve probably also responded to something “in kind.” Which just means that someone has done something to you, so now you’re going to do the exact same thing back. But where did the phrase come from, and why do we respond “in kind”? Also, sometimes people put a hyphen in “in-kind,” so what’s up with that? What’s the difference between the hyphenated and unhyphenated versions?

Goods and Services

So “in kind” has two definitions–at least in the context we’re operating in. The one that probably cropped up first means to pay for something using not-money. Normally the implication is that traditionally you would use money though. That’s like when your friend buys you dinner, but instead of giving them cash you help them fix their computer next week. Or donating your stuff instead of handing over some money. An in kind service (or good) is always valued at what you would pay for them if you didn’t donate them, though. Because if you didn’t value it, you wouldn’t take the deal. 

Otherwise, repaying someone in kind means you’re repaying them in the same way. That’s your friend buying you dinner tonight so you got them dinner tomorrow. Or more spitefully, someone slapped you in the face so you slapped them back.

Maybe you slapped them harder–but that’s not your fault. You’re just bigger.

There are some grammatical shenanigans here. Let’s get into what the difference between “in kind” and “in-kind” is, now that you know what it might mean. When “in kind” is used before the thing it modifies, you hyphenate it. So say you responded in kind by getting your friend dinner. You can either say you bought them dinner in kind or you can say you made an in-kind repayment of dinner. 


Way back when, before we dumpstered Latin, “in kind” was derived from in-specie. Which would have, in modern English, meant “in respect to kind.” Which is not at all helpful and is like saying “a rose is a flower.” 

What it would have meant was something more along the lines of “species.” Ergo, something was literally similar–either metaphorically or literally. Eventually when the word “kind” made its way to Old English, it started referring to both class (like financially) as well as one’s family or race. Which should tell you everything about how English-speaking society was (and kind of still is sometimes) structured.

Unfortunately for those who get confused by dead phrases coming back, in-specie is one of those zombie phrases that doesn’t mean anything we’ve talked about so far. Luckily you won’t have to care unless you work in the financial sector or are a lawyer. In specie just means financial assets are being distributed in their actual form, rather than its equivalent value in cash. However, it also means money in the form of coin. Like the metal ones. 

Speaking of kind, see if you can find three of a kind here.

About the Author:

+ posts

Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.