du·​ty | \ˈdü-tē 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

5a : work sense 1c

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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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


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

America’s latest round of duties will not come into force until after a consultation process. The Economist, "Business this week," 12 July 2018 One in a thousand takes part in any kind of civic duty, and only 6 percent do volunteer work. Livia Gershon, Longreads, "Clocking Out," 11 July 2018 Maybe it’s just used to it; Car 554 never left the city after its tour of duty here. Jacques Kelly, baltimoresun.com, "Jacques Kelly: Museum's restoration of Car 554 brings back the era of open summer streetcars," 7 July 2018 Taker is a bomb-detection dog who saved many soldiers' lives during tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Grant Suneson And John Harrington, USA TODAY, "The 25 most heroic dogs in America," 5 July 2018 Peter Sananman, the doctor on duty in the emergency room that day, took a look at the man’s pupils. Aubrey Whelan, Philly.com, "West Philadelphia nervously watches as fentanyl kills the unsuspecting," 5 July 2018 Currently, only a small portion of this flow is the target of duties. Hema Parmar, latimes.com, "Iconic brands feel tariff pain, and corporate America braces for more," 27 June 2018 The suit also accused his daughter Janice of conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty. Gretchen Morgenson, WSJ, "Buzz Aldrin Fights Family For Control of His Space Legacy," 25 June 2018 But off-duty lifeguards had already helped bring the swimmers to safety, Cutting said. Alejandro Serrano, BostonGlobe.com, "Off-duty life guards help struggling swimmers to safety at Hampton Beach," 14 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Video provided by Shayne Holland IMPD is conducting an internal investigation to review the actions of an off-duty police officer accused of discriminating against a black man at an apartment complex swimming pool. Vic Ryckaert, Indianapolis Star, "IMPD investigating officer involved in alleged profiling incident at swimming pool," 13 July 2018 One man was apprehended quickly by an off-duty police officer who rushed to the scene about 6 p.m. June 9 at 3401 Red Bridge Road. Joe Robertson And Tess Vrbin, kansascity, "Gunman in Red Bridge Road shootout that hurt child still at large; police want help," 28 June 2018 The off-duty police officer pulled out her own gun and fired at the robber three times, hitting him in the chest and leg. Amanda Erickson, Washington Post, "A man in Brazil tried to rob a group of kids at gunpoint. This mom stepped in to stop him.," 14 May 2018 The teens tried to rescue him, and at one point an off-duty police officer also dove in to help search for him. Adam Sennott, BostonGlobe.com, "Worcester teen dies while swimming in Lake Chaubunagungamaug," 3 June 2018 Off-duty police officer Katia Sastre pulled out her own gun and put the man down. Fox News, "Secretary Nielsen talks immigration, relationship with Trump," 15 May 2018 In Clayton County, officials say an off-duty police officer fatally shot a man who had been firing shots toward another person near a restaurant Sunday. Fox News, "1 dead, 3 wounded in shooting involving deputy in Georgia," 14 May 2018 Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Friday that the 14-year-old's father then called a family friend who's an off-duty police officer and told him where the boy was. Crimesider Staff, CBS News, "Boy shot at Highland High in Palmdale, Calif.; fellow student detained," 11 May 2018 The off-duty school officer is married to one of the female victims, police said. Washington Post, "Gunman kills 3 women, wounds 3 officers in 14-hour standoff," 6 Mar. 2018

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


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


see duty entry 1

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Learn More about duty

Dictionary Entries near duty





duty bound


duty mark

Statistics for duty

Last Updated

8 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for duty

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

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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



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, 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

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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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Comments on duty

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by force of circumstances

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