du·​ty | \ ˈdü-tē How to pronounce duty (audio) also ˈdyü- \
plural duties

Definition of duty

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : conduct due to parents and superiors : respect filial duty and obedience— John Locke
2a : obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one's position (as in life or in a group) was his duty to support his family Her primary duty at the meeting was to take attendance. performs a variety of administrative duties
b(1) : assigned service or business was put on kitchen duty jury duty
(2) : active military service returning from duty overseas
(3) : a period of being on duty report for duty at 7 a.m.
3a : a moral or legal obligation felt it was their duty to help
b : the force of moral obligation will be ready when duty calls
4 : tax especially : a tax on imports a 15 percent duty
b(1) : the service required (as of an electric machine) under specified conditions
(2) : functional application : use got double duty out of the trip
(3) : use as a substitute making the word do duty for the thing— Edward Sapir
off duty
: free from assignment or responsibility a police officer who was off duty at the time
on duty
: engaged in or responsible for an assigned task or duty not allowed to take personal calls while on duty



Definition of duty (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : done as a duty pay a duty call on her elderly aunt
2 : being on duty : assigned to specified tasks or functions the duty officer

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Synonyms for duty

Synonyms: Noun

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function, office, duty, province mean the acts or operations expected of a person or thing. function implies a definite end or purpose or a particular kind of work. the function of language is two-fold: to communicate emotion and to give information — Aldous Huxley office is typically applied to the function or service associated with a trade or profession or a special relationship to others. they exercise the offices of the judge, the priest, the counsellor — W. E. Gladstone duty applies to a task or responsibility imposed by one's occupation, rank, status, or calling. it is the judicial duty of the court, to examine the whole case — R. B. Taney province applies to a function, office, or duty that naturally or logically falls to one. I felt it was not my province to inquire — Anne Brontë

task, duty, job, chore, stint, assignment mean a piece of work to be done. task implies work imposed by a person in authority or an employer or by circumstance. charged with a variety of tasks duty implies an obligation to perform or responsibility for performance. the duties of a lifeguard job applies to a piece of work voluntarily performed; it may sometimes suggest difficulty or importance. the job of turning the company around chore implies a minor routine activity necessary for maintaining a household or farm. every child was assigned chores stint implies a carefully allotted or measured quantity of assigned work or service. a 2-month stint as a reporter assignment implies a definite limited task assigned by one in authority. a reporter's assignment

Examples of duty in a Sentence

Noun His primary duty at the event is to take attendance. If new employees are unable to carry out their duties, they may be fired. We felt it was our duty to help. He has a duty to support his family. They helped her out of a sense of duty. I'll be ready when duty calls. Her brother returned from duty overseas. a twelve-month tour of duty Many reserve troops were called into active duty.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Kaitlan Collins pulled double duty this week, both as CNN’s chief White House correspondent and impromptu NFL draft analyst. Ben Flanagan | Bflanagan@al.com, al, "Kaitlan Collins, Alabama football superfan, analyzes Tide draft picks on CNN: ‘Roll Patriots’," 3 May 2021 Vineyard Vines: Once verified, active duty military and veterans will receive 15% off almost everything Vineyard Vines has to offer. Melissa Lee, USA TODAY, "National Military Appreciation Month: Get the best military discounts of 2021," 2 May 2021 Minnesota could take the lead in protecting off-duty conduct and expressive freedom of employees. Star Tribune, "Cheerleader's case could shape workplace social media policies," 2 May 2021 Kanaan, whose first tour of duty with CGR ended in 2015, is in the first season of a two-year contract. John Sturbin, Dallas News, "In his IndyCar return, Tony Kanaan is excited to split seat time with Jimmie Johnson," 2 May 2021 The officer is off street duty pending an investigation. Nicole Chavez, CNN, "Ma'Khia Bryant to be remembered as a vibrant and bubbly girl at funeral," 30 Apr. 2021 If the first duty of a government is to ensure public security and economic stability, then modern-day Rwanda has surely passed the test. Washington Post, "He’s been hailed as Rwanda’s hero. But is he really his country’s villain?," 30 Apr. 2021 That responsibility is part of federal law, too, under the general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Sy Mukherjee, Fortune, "T-shirts, bonuses, and paid time off: How companies are incentivizing workers to get a COVID vaccine as new guidance looms," 30 Apr. 2021 One study published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology studied two separate groups of people who had LASIK—262 active duty Navy personnel and 312 civilians. Korin Miller, Health.com, "These Women Take Eye Drops Made From Their Own Blood After Laser Eye Surgery Complications," 30 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective As an example, our top choice is an excellent mid-duty machine with 6,400 bpm and 3,000 pounds force. Bob Beacham, chicagotribune.com, "The best plate compactor," 12 Mar. 2021 Those extra-duty assignments often make up a substantial part of a driver’s monthly earnings. Don Stacom, courant.com, "New Britain’s DATTCO: Bus industry is suffering badly in pandemic," 2 Sep. 2020 Chauvin worked as an off-duty police officer for the club for nearly 17 years, Santamaria said. Scottie Andrew, CNN, "Derek Chauvin: What we know about the former officer charged for George Floyd's death," 1 June 2020 McLemore was in the company of a female off-duty police officer during the offense. Carol Robinson | Crobinson@al.com, al, "2 Sunday-morning shootings in Brighton under investigation," 10 Nov. 2019 In the city’s Yuen Long area, a Hong Kong off-duty police officer surrounded by demonstrators shot a 14-year-old in the leg. Ephrat Livni, Quartz, "The latest violence in Hong Kong now has the UN’s attention," 5 Oct. 2019 The manager told police an off-duty police officer by the name Andrew Mueller showed his firearm and badge to a female patron of the bar, the report states. Jennifer Edwards Baker, Cincinnati.com, "UC cop charged with OVI investigated for previous incidents involving drinking," 23 Feb. 2020 Samhan, 25, of Lakewood and Marcum, 21, of Hinckley are each charged with felonious assault in the Thursday incident that injured an off-duty police officer, according to court records. Evan Macdonald, cleveland, "Shoplifting suspects accused of hitting North Olmsted officer with SUV arrested in Cleveland, police say," 17 Feb. 2020 The incident occurred on Monday afternoon at approximately 3:30 p.m. in Houston, Texas when an off-duty police officer caught a strange sight on W. Sam Houston Parkway Beltway, according to ABC News' Houston station KTRK. Jon Haworth, ABC News, "5 kids caught in stolen truck lead police on short chase, crash into 2 other cars," 11 Feb. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'duty.' 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 duty


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1806, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for duty

Noun and Adjective

Middle English duete, from Anglo-French deueté, dueté, from deu due

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Time Traveler for duty

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for duty

Last Updated

6 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Duty.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duty. Accessed 13 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for duty



English Language Learners Definition of duty

: something that is done as part of a job
: something that you must do because it is morally right or because the law requires it
: active military service


du·​ty | \ ˈdü-tē How to pronounce duty (audio) , ˈdyü- \
plural duties

Kids Definition of duty

1 : something a person feels he or she ought to do because it is morally right Dad says it's his duty to take care of Grandma.
2 : something a person is required to do by law jury duty
3 : an action done as part of a job or position a principal's duties
4 : the time during which a person must do his or her job The police officer was on duty.
5 : active military service He returned from duty overseas.
6 : a tax especially on imports into a country


plural duties

Legal Definition of duty

1 : tasks, service, or functions that arise from one's position performing a police officer's duties also : a period of being on duty — see also jury duty
2 : an obligation assumed (as by contract) or imposed by law to conduct oneself in conformance with a certain standard or to act in a particular way duty of good faith a duty to warn of danger — see also public duty doctrine, special duty doctrine
duty of candor \ -​ˈkan-​dər \
: a duty obligating directors of a corporation to disclose all material facts known to them about a transaction when they are seeking shareholder approval
duty of care
: a duty to use due care toward others in order to protect them from unnecessary risk of harm
duty of fair representation
: a duty obligating a labor union to represent the employees in its collective bargaining unit fairly and in good faith
duty of loyalty
: a duty obligating directors of a corporation to refrain from using their positions to further their own interests rather than the interests of the shareholders (as by self-dealing or fraud)
fiduciary duty
: a duty obligating a fiduciary (as an agent or trustee) to act with loyalty and honesty and in a manner consistent with the best interests of the beneficiary of the fiduciary relationship (as a principal or trust beneficiary)
3 : tax especially : a tax on imports
off duty
: not engaged in a duty a police officer who is off duty
on duty
: engaged in a duty

History and Etymology for duty

Anglo-French deuté indebtedness, obligation, from deu owing, due, from Old French — see due

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