\ ˈdet How to pronounce debt (audio) \

Definition of debt

1 : something owed : obligation unable to pay off his debts owe them a debt of gratitude a criminal's debt to society
2 : a state of being under obligation to pay or repay someone or something in return for something received : a state of owing deeply in debt to creditors
3 law and business : the common-law action for the recovery of money held to be due
4 : sin, trespass Forgive us our debts.

Other Words from debt

debtless \ ˈdet-​ləs How to pronounce debt (audio) \ adjective

Examples of debt in a Sentence

He is trying to pay off gambling debts. The company has run up huge debts. Their debts are piling up. He's been working three jobs in an attempt to get out of debt. The company was in debt but is now turning a profit. I am deep in debt. I'm thousands of dollars in debt. She went into debt to pay for college. I'm worried that we will fall into debt.
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Recent Examples on the Web Less palpable but still significant is the dwindling burden of your debt. Allison Morrow, CNN, 10 Jan. 2022 Bateman had also been a prominent figure in Utah Republican politics, financially bailing out the party a few years ago when its legal debt mounted during a court fight over paths for candidates to get on the ballot. CBS News, 5 Jan. 2022 Separately, there are concerns that China’s second-largest real estate developer, the struggling Evergrande group, could default on its debt. Trefis Team, Forbes, 4 Jan. 2022 One reason companies seek to restructure their debt is to take advantage of improving market conditions. Will Feuer, WSJ, 3 Jan. 2022 Step one, however, is AMC’s plan to launch a popcorn business … and Aron’s new plan to rejigger its debt. Alex Weprin, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Jan. 2022 Back in March 2020, the Studios de Paris was placed under court protection for its debt, which will be paid by the acquisition. Elsa Keslassy, Variety, 28 Dec. 2021 In the process of refinancing its debt, Revlon enlisted Citibank to send out $7.8 million in interest payments to various creditors. Eric Bangeman, Ars Technica, 24 Dec. 2021 Their collective debt totals more than $1.37 trillion, according to the latest Education Department data. Los Angeles Times, 23 Dec. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'debt.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of debt

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

History and Etymology for debt

Middle English dette, debte, from Anglo-French dette something owed, from Vulgar Latin *debita, from Latin, plural of debitum debt, from neuter of debitus, past participle of debēre to owe, from de- + habēre to have — more at give

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Time Traveler for debt

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The first known use of debt was in the 13th century

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Dictionary Entries Near debt



debt book

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Last Updated

13 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Debt.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for debt



English Language Learners Definition of debt

: an amount of money that you owe to a person, bank, company, etc.
: the state of owing money to someone or something
: the fact that you have been influenced or helped by someone or something


\ ˈdet How to pronounce debt (audio) \

Kids Definition of debt

1 : something owed to another
2 : the condition of owing something I am in debt to you for all your help.
3 : sin entry 1 sense 1 We ask forgiveness of our debts.



Legal Definition of debt

1 : something owed: as
a : a specific sum of money or a performance due another especially by agreement (as a loan agreement) to pay the debts…of the United StatesU.S. Constitution art. I a debt for alimony
b : an obligation to pay or perform on another's claim discharged the debt — compare asset, equity sense 4

Note: It is often up to the courts to decide what is or is not a debt under various laws. Courts disagree whether criminal restitution is a debt under the Bankruptcy Code.

antecedent debt
: debt that is incurred prior to a property transfer paying or securing the debt — compare preference
bad debt
: a debt that cannot be collected

Note: An income tax deduction is allowed for bad debts.

consumer debt
: debt that is incurred by an individual primarily for the purchase of consumer goods or services — compare consumer credit
judgment debt
: a debt established by a judgment and enforceable by a legal process (as an execution of judgment or attachment)
c : a state of owing in debt
d : the aggregate of money owed the national debt
2 : the common-law action for the recovery of a specified sum of money or a sum that can be simply and certainly determined

called also action of debt, writ of debt

— compare assumpsit, covenant

History and Etymology for debt

Old French dette, ultimately from Latin debita, plural of debitum debt, from neuter of debitus, past participle of debere to owe

More from Merriam-Webster on debt

Nglish: Translation of debt for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of debt for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about debt


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