\ 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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web That has left many single parents skipping meals so their children have plenty of food, providing less healthy meals for their families, and culling expenses to the point where any unforeseen cost could mean more debt -- or worse. Alicia Wallace, CNN, 10 May 2022 Soaring prices of everything from gasoline to essential medicines have kept protests on the boil in Sri Lanka, which is close to bankruptcy and has suspended payments on foreign debt. Time, 10 May 2022 While the debt figure is correct, the government doesn't issue credit scores. Valerie Pavilonis, USA TODAY, 10 May 2022 These $1 pegs are usually backed by Treasurys, cash and other dollar debt that is easily sold in times of market stress. Caitlin Ostroff And Alexander Osipovich, WSJ, 10 May 2022 The downside is the retailers have to start paying significantly more rent -- essentially incurring debt by adding a lot of store leases to their balance sheets. Kathleen Gallagher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10 May 2022 Those with outstanding debt, student loans, or unpaid medical bills should think twice. Emma Reynolds, House Beautiful, 10 May 2022 Even with the territory’s overall debt restructuring, PREPA remains saddled with a staggering $9 billion in obligations, to be paid back through higher utility rates over the next 47 years. Xander Peters, The Christian Science Monitor, 9 May 2022 Now, the terms on those old loans are maturing, the debt’s being repaid, and the money that was set aside can be put back to use. Courtney Astolfi, cleveland, 9 May 2022 See More

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.

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 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Debt.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for debt


\ 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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