noun ob·li·ga·tion \ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən\

Definition of obligation

  1. 1 :  the action of obligating oneself to a course of action (as by a promise or vow)

  2. 2a :  something (such as a formal contract, a promise, or the demands of conscience or custom) that obligates one to a course of action made an obligation to pay their children's college expensesb :  a debt security (such as a mortgage or corporate bond)c :  a commitment (as by a government) to pay a particular sum of money; also :  an amount owed under such an obligation Unable to meet its obligations, the company went into bankruptcy.

  3. 3a :  a condition or feeling of being obligated felt an obligation to voteb :  a debt of gratitude returned the favor as an obligation

  4. 4 :  something one is bound to do :  duty, responsibility countries in which military service is an obligation fulfilled their familial obligations

Examples of obligation in a Sentence

  1. She believes that all people have a moral obligation to defend human rights.

  2. He argues that people in a community have certain obligations to each other.

  3. She failed to fulfill her obligations as a parent.

Recent Examples of obligation from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'obligation'. Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of obligation

14th century

OBLIGATION Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of obligation for English Language Learners

  • : something that you must do because of a law, rule, promise, etc.

  • : something that you must do because it is morally right

OBLIGATION Defined for Kids


noun ob·li·ga·tion \ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən\

Definition of obligation for Students

  1. 1 :  something a person must do because of the demands of a promise or contract Make sure you know your rights and obligations before you sign.

  2. 2 :  something a person feels he or she must do :  duty I can't go because of other obligations.

  3. 3 :  a feeling of being indebted for an act of kindness Don't feel any obligation to return the favor.

Law Dictionary


noun ob·li·ga·tion \ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən\

Legal Definition of obligation

  1. 1 :  a promise, acknowledgment, or agreement (as a contract) that binds one to a specific performance (as payment); also :  the binding power of such an agreement or indication held that the amendment did not unconstitutionally impair the obligations of contracts — Davis v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 521 N.W.2d 366 (1994)

  2. 2 :  a debt security (as a corporate or government bond) collateralized debt obligation :  a security backed by a pool of diversified securities that usually do not include mortgages collateralized loan obligation :  a security backed by a pool of commercial loans collateralized mortgage obligation :  a bond collateralized by a pool of mortgage obligations or pass-through securities and paid according to the maturity and amortization schedule of its class and not directly from the underlying obligations —called also CMO

  3. 3 :  what one is obligated to do, satisfy, or fulfill: as a :  a commitment to pay a particular amount of money does not create a debt, liability, or other obligation, legal or moral — State v. Florida Dev. Fin. Corp., 650 So. 2d 14 (1995); also :  an amount owed in such a commitment b :  a duty arising from law, contract, or morality had a legal obligation as an employer a contractual obligation

  4. 4 in the civil law of Louisiana :  a relationship that binds one party to a performance (as a payment or transfer) or nonperformance for another party — see also contract, offense, quasi-offense Editor's note: An obligation under civil law may arise by operation of law, naturally, or by contract or other declaration of will. The elements of an obligation are: the parties, an object, the relationship by virtue of which one party is bound to perform for the other's benefit, and, in the case of conventional obligations, a cause. conditional obligation :  an obligation that is dependent on an uncertain event conventional obligation :  an obligation taking the form of a contract heritable obligation :  an obligation that may be enforced by the successor of the obligee or against the successor of the obligor joint obligation 1 :  an obligation binding different obligors to a performance for one obligee 2 :  an obligation binding one obligor to a performance for different obligees Editor's note: In civil law, one of two or more obligors in a joint obligation is only liable for his or her portion of the performance. natural obligation :  an obligation arising from moral duty that is implied but not enforceable by the law several obligation 1 :  any of the obligations binding different obligors to separate performances for one obligee 2 :  any of the obligations binding an obligor to separate performances for different obligees solidary obligation :  an obligation under which any of two or more obligors can be held liable for the entire performance (as payment of a debt) Editor's note: Solidary obligation is similar to joint and several liability in common law.

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to bring about or cause (something)

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