\ ˈō-nəs How to pronounce onus (audio) \

Definition of onus

1 [Latin — more at onerous]
b : a disagreeable necessity : obligation
c : blame
d : stigma
2 [New Latin onus (probandi), literally, burden of proving] : burden of proof put forth a theory that left the onus squarely on him

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Did You Know?

Understanding the etymology of onus is not at all burdensome; it's as simple as knowing that English borrowed the word - spelling, meaning, and all - from Latin in the 17th century. We can also add that it's a distant relative of the Sanskrit word for "cart" (a vehicle that carries a burden). English isn't exactly loaded with derivatives of Latin onus, but the root did give us "onerous" ("troublesome") and "exonerate" ("to clear from accusation or blame" - thus, "to unburden"). Additionally, our legal language has "onus probandi," which is often shortened to "onus." It means "burden of proof" - that is, the obligation of proving a disputed assertion in a court of law.

Examples of onus in a Sentence

Consumers should be able to limit the use of information beyond what's essential to complete a transaction. There are two principal ways to do this: Web sites can permit them to "opt in," or explicitly grant advance permission to share information. Or they can put the onus on consumers to "opt out" if they don't want information shared. Consumer Reports, May 2000 These laws got the regulatory ball rolling, but the onus was on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that additives were safe. — Amy Rosenbaum Clark, Vegetarian Times, March 1995 It is not the scions of Yale and Harvard who apply to become FBI agents and construction workers and civil servants and cops who bear the onus of this reverse discrimination. — Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post, 9-15 Mar. 1992 hoping to avoid the onus of failure by lowering expectations ahead of time he perpetually tries to shift the onus for any mistakes onto other team members
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Recent Examples on the Web Fair or unfair, the onus is on us to choose a new way, and a new system of operating. Gloria Lau, Quartz, "The healthcare system thinks helping women is bad for business," 10 Jan. 2020 The Warhawks, however, will be without senior tailback Jarrod Ware, who suffered a foot injury against St. John’s, putting more of the onus on Alex Peete and Ronny Ponick. Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "UW-Whitewater's Stagg Bowl mission: Slow down the prolific passing game of North Central," 19 Dec. 2019 Now given a leadership role, the onus was on Xhaka to eliminate those errors from his game. SI.com, "There's No Way Back for Granit Xhaka at Arsenal After Clashing With Fans," 28 Oct. 2019 Rhyne says some of the onus for controlling exotic animals should fall on the pet industry itself. Jim Daley, Scientific American, "How Do We Prevent Pets from Becoming Exotic Invaders?," 7 Oct. 2019 Much of the onus is on subway operations, such as a greater emphasis on trains leaving terminals on time or on changes to procedures that speed service. Paul Berger, WSJ, "MTA Touts Progress in Fixing Subway but Victory Still Afar," 24 Sep. 2018 In Pelosi’s mind, the onus is now on McConnell to convince her it’s worth shipping the House efforts across Capitol Hill. Philip Elliott, Time, "Democrats Hit Pause on Moving Impeachment to Senate, Citing Concerns Over Fair Trial," 19 Dec. 2019 That means the onus is on Phillip Lindsay and the Broncos’ offensive line to establish the run against linebacker Damien Wilson (75 tackles) and a Chiefs front that limited the Patriots to 94 yards on the ground last week. Kyle Newman, The Denver Post, "Broncos scouting report: How Denver matches up against the Chiefs and predictions," 13 Dec. 2019 But the state law is clear: The onus of confirming the age of one’s young partner is on the adult. John Pacenti, USA TODAY, "Loophole in Florida's sex crime law failed Jeffrey Epstein's accusers. It still exists today," 25 Nov. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'onus.' 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 onus

1626, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Last Updated

19 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Onus.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/onus. Accessed 24 January 2020.

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More Definitions for onus


How to pronounce onus (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of onus

formal : the responsibility for something

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More from Merriam-Webster on onus

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for onus

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with onus

Spanish Central: Translation of onus

Nglish: Translation of onus for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of onus for Arabic Speakers

Comments on onus

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


a feeling of well-being or elation

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