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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for duty

Synonyms: Noun

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for duty


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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun All of the aforementioned socks and sandals moments feel very casual and off-duty, but Jenner proves that they can be taken out of the locker room (or the farmer’s market) and for a night on the town, as long as there is some polish involved. Vogue, "Kendall Jenner's Post-Fashion Week Look Is All About a Comfy Shoe," 13 Sep. 2019 Meanwhile, Welch suffered a pair of fractured ribs and Welch’s passenger, fellow off-duty trooper Timothy Stone, 36, suffered a dislocated hip and a laceration to his left leg, the report said. Matt Rocheleau, BostonGlobe.com, "Trooper had record of driving violations before alleged off-duty OUI that seriously injured 3," 5 Sep. 2019 Hundreds of local, state and federal agencies-- as well as civilian volunteers-- have scoured tens of thousands of miles along the East Coast in a six-day long search for two off-duty firefighters, Justin Walker and Brian McCluney. Fox News, "Coast Guard suspends search for firefighters lost at sea after Florida fishing trip," 23 Aug. 2019 Then their car was rear-ended again by an SUV driven by off-duty San Diego police Officer Raymond Rowe, who was headed home after his work shift ended at 11:30 p.m. That second impact sent the Corolla up in flames. Pauline Repard, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Guilty verdicts in DUI hit-run crash in Miramar that led to 2 deaths, 1 serious injury," 22 Aug. 2019 Salesforce Tower, Ross Dress for Less and other downtown San Francisco corporations and businesses are shelling out millions of dollars to pay off-duty police officers to work as private security guards. Phil Matier, SFChronicle.com, "Businesses hiring real SF cops on OT to keep crime down, employees safe," 21 Aug. 2019 But unlike other such zones, where factories make duty-free goods for export, this one would generate electricity for export. Somini Sengupta, New York Times, "How One Billionaire Could Keep Three Countries Hooked on Coal for Decades," 15 Aug. 2019 An off-duty Chicago police officer died Monday night in what is being investigated as a possible suicide at a forest preserve on the Northwest Side, according to police. Alice Yin, chicagotribune.com, "Off-duty Chicago police officer dies in apparent suicide, police say," 16 Sep. 2019 And, of course, no off-duty look is complete without a hydrating lip balm and flesh-tone lipstick. Jenna Rennert, Vogue, "Jourdan Dunn Reveals the Secrets Behind Her Model Off-Duty Glow," 16 Sep. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective While in a holding cell inside the Douglas County facility, the off-duty Aurora officer banged his head against a glass door on four occasions, the Castle Rock police officer stated in the report. Robert Garrison, The Denver Post, "Off-duty Aurora officer arrested for DUI in Castle Rock, affidavit says," 3 Sep. 2019 The latest unrest comes after a dramatic 48-hour period in which police arrested high-profile activists and pro-democracy lawmakers, and three masked men attacked an off-duty police officer, wounding him badly. Time Staff, Time, "Tens of Thousands of Protesters Take to the Streets in Hong Kong in Defiance of a Police Ban," 31 Aug. 2019 Police said Brannon’s vehicle was first spotted by an off-duty patrol officer near the South Birchwood exit in Chugiak. Matt Tunseth, Anchorage Daily News, "APD: Man speeding on Glenn Highway with child in his vehicle was driving while impaired," 27 Aug. 2019 All three were shot on June 14 by an off-duty police officer in a Costco in Corona. Los Angeles Times, "Judge bars release of video of deadly shooting at Costco by off-duty LAPD officer," 6 Aug. 2019 The man, whose name has not been released, was chased by passers-by, including an off-duty police officer, and arrested near the station. Washington Post, "Germany says suspected train pusher had psychiatric problems," 30 July 2019 In Pittsburgh, another was charged with fatally shooting an off-duty police officer. NBC News, "6 killings in two months allegedly by people on parole in Pennsylvania prompt calls for review," 25 July 2019 This year in California, a young man with a cognitive disability reportedly pushed an off-duty police officer who was with his child at a Costco, resulting in the officer shooting and killing the man. Austen Erblat, sun-sentinel.com, "New Margate Cares program aims to improve police encounters for people with autism," 25 July 2019 Maryland authorities are crediting an off-duty police officer with kicking in a front door and saving two people from a burning home. baltimoresun.com, "Off-duty police officer saves 2 from burning Maryland home," 16 July 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about duty

Dictionary Entries near duty





duty bound


duty mark

Statistics for duty

Last Updated

31 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for duty

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for duty



Financial Definition of duty

What It Is

In the tax and import/export world, a duty (or customs duty) is money collected under a tariff.

How It Works

A duty is a federal tax on imports or exports. For example, Americans who travel abroad can bring back a certain number of dollars' worth of items without paying a duty. If the traveler brings back more than the allowed dollar amount worth of items, he or she must pay the tax (which varies according to the type of item, the type of travel, and other factors).

One of the best known tariff agreements is the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect on January 1, 1994. NAFTA required the elimination of duties on half of U.S. goods shipped to Mexico and the gradual phaseout of other tariffs among the U.S., Canada and Mexico over a 14-year period.

The World Trade Organization, which was created in 1995 and replaced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, is an international body that acts as a trade-dispute settlement organization and offers a forum to discuss new and existing trade rules and tariffs.

Why It Matters

Duties are used by governments to generate revenue or to protect domestic industries from competition. Duties can make it more expensive for Americans to purchase foreign goods, causing a decline in imports, a decline in the supply of the good, and a resulting increase in the price of the good. The price increase usually motivates domestic producers to increase their output of the product. Some economists argue that the resulting higher consumer prices, higher producer revenues and profits, and higher government revenues make duties a way to effectively transfer money from U.S. consumers to the U.S. Treasury. Some economists also argue that duties interfere with free market ideals by diverting resources to industries in which the U.S. is a less efficient, high-cost producer.

Source: Investing Answers


How to pronounce duty (audio)

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

Keep scrolling for more


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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on duty

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for duty

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with duty

Spanish Central: Translation of duty

Nglish: Translation of duty for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of duty for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about duty

Comments on duty

What made you want to look up duty? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


an agreement to stop fighting a war

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Confusing Words—A Quiz

  • alice with tweedle dee and tweedle dum
  • I invented a brand new toaster robot and ______ it "Sir Toasts-a-Lot."
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!