ob·​li·​ga·​tion ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən How to pronounce obligation (audio)
: the action of obligating oneself to a course of action (as by a promise or vow)
: 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 expenses
: a debt security (such as a mortgage or corporate bond)
: 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.
: a condition or feeling of being obligated
felt an obligation to vote
: a debt of gratitude
returned the favor as an obligation
: 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

She believes that all people have a moral obligation to defend human rights. He argues that people in a community have certain obligations to each other. She failed to fulfill her obligations as a parent.
Recent Examples on the Web Vision Marine does not undertake any obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events, or otherwise, as required by law. Kansas City Star, 3 Apr. 2024 But it was canceled after Libre did not fully comply with its obligation to turn over evidence, and the judge moved directly to the sanctions phase of the case. Salvador Rizzo The Washington Post, arkansasonline.com, 3 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for obligation 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'obligation.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English obligacioun, borrowed from Anglo-French obligacion, borrowed from Latin obligātiōn-, obligātiō, from obligāre "to tie up, restrain by tying, place under a legal or moral constraint" + -tiōn- -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at oblige

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of obligation was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near obligation

Cite this Entry

“Obligation.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obligation. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


ob·​li·​ga·​tion ˌäb-lə-ˈgā-shən How to pronounce obligation (audio)
: an act of making oneself responsible for doing something
: something (as a promise or contract) that requires one to do something
: something one must do : duty
: a feeling of being indebted for an act of kindness

Legal Definition


ob·​li·​ga·​tion ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən How to pronounce obligation (audio)
: 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)
: 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

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

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
: an obligation binding different obligors to a performance for one obligee
: an obligation binding one obligor to a performance for different obligees

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
: any of the obligations binding different obligors to separate performances for one obligee
: 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)

Note: Solidary obligation is similar to joint and several liability in common law.

More from Merriam-Webster on obligation

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