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

Keep scrolling 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


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

Connor was assigned to desk duty after a video of the harassment, which occurred last month, was posted on Facebook and went viral. USA TODAY, "Police officer resigns, suspect charged with hate crime after woman wearing Puerto Rico shirt harassed," 12 July 2018 In anticipation of using Burnes out of the bullpen this season if needed, the Brewers moved him from a starting role to relief duty at Colorado Springs. Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Brewers make eight moves, including Braun, Pina to DL, call-ups of Nottingham, Burnes, Orf," 8 July 2018 Death threats against an official or immediate family, and attempts to intimidate, interfere with, or retaliate against an official based on his or her official duties are all federal crimes. Glenn Fleishman, Fortune, "FBI Arrests Man Who Threatened to Kill FCC Chair Ajit Pai's Children," 29 June 2018 Santiago returned to full duty in May 2016, though not at Rosie’s. John H. Tucker, Daily Intelligencer, "Rape at Rosie’s," 26 June 2018 Each year, the award show typically gives out a Humanitarian Award that honors the philanthropic contributions of a celebrity who goes beyond their duty as an entertainer to do something that really matters. refinery29.com, "The BET Awards Look Different This Year & Here's Why," 25 June 2018 After scoring 30 goals as a center in 2015-16, Galchenyuk was eventually moved exclusively to wing and at one point was relegated to fourth-line duty with the Canadiens. Richard Morin, azcentral, "Breaking down the Alex Galchenyuk-Max Domi trade between the Coyotes and Canadiens," 15 June 2018 Today is the next step in a steep learning curve for Meghan, who has had a fast track introduction to royal duty since marrying into the royal family on May 19. Katie Nicholl, Vanities, "Meghan Markle Joins the Queen For Her First Royal Outing Without Harry," 14 June 2018 Procopio did not address whether state policing duties could be left to the local police departments on the two islands. Todd Wallack, BostonGlobe.com, "For some State Police, it’s a posting in paradise," 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.

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


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


see duty entry 1


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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about duty

Dictionary Entries near duty





duty bound


duty mark

Statistics for duty

Last Updated

11 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

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



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

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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


not any or not one

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble-tiles-that-read-scrabble-quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


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!