be·​hold·​en bi-ˈhōl-dən How to pronounce beholden (audio)
: being under obligation for a favor or gift : indebted
I'm beholden to you

Did you know?

To behold something is to perceive or gaze upon it—therefore, to be beholden is to be seen or observed, right? Not so fast! It’s true that behold and beholden share the same Old English roots, and also that beholden originated as the past participle of behold, whose original meaning was “to hold or retain.” But the two words weaved and wended their way down different paths into present-day English. Behold had settled into its “perceive, see” use by the 12th century. Meanwhile, beholden was called into duty as the “indebted, obligated” adjective we know today by the 14th century, as evidenced by its appearance in the Middle-English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the ensuing years, beholden has continued to describe people who are obligated to others (often for a favor or gift), as well as people or things that are in figurative debt due to aid or inspiration, as in “many contemporary books and films are beholden to old Arthurian legends.”

Examples of beholden in a Sentence

not wanting to be beholden to anyone, he insisted on paying his own way
Recent Examples on the Web The appointment was a major concession for McCarthy, but, from his perspective, turning an insurgent into a beholden ally was a matter of survival. Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, 21 Oct. 2023 While medications are prescribed by an elite medical authority figure, supplements are peddled by entrepreneurs beholden only to the market. WIRED, 31 July 2023 Peacock wasn’t so beholden to tradition. Daniel Vaillancourt, Los Angeles Times, 5 Dec. 2021 Politicians are increasingly beholden not to moderate voters who make up much of the electorate, but to extreme partisans who turn out in force for primary elections. Sammy Rothstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 16 Feb. 2023 These days, he is served almost exclusively by sycophants, having replaced successive rounds of loyal yet inexperienced aides with staffers even more beholden and novice. Anchorage Daily News, 19 Dec. 2022 Sareen also said India is unfairly held to different privacy laws than Europe; WhatsApp responded that Europe has unique data laws to which India and the rest of the world aren’t beholden. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz, 11 Mar. 2021 Democracy will always be in peril if one political party remains beholden to charlatans, conspiracy theorists, and contemptible demagogues. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 28 Nov. 2022 In a genre whose songwriters seem beholden to the whims of mechanical algorithms, Beyoncé’s Renaissance not only reimagines the artist, but also the contours of pop music itself. Spin Staff, SPIN, 26 Dec. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'beholden.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from past participle of beholden

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of beholden was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near beholden

Cite this Entry

“Beholden.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


be·​hold·​en bi-ˈhōl-dən How to pronounce beholden (audio)
: being indebted for a favor or gift
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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