\ˈȯt \

Definition of ought 

(Entry 1 of 4)

used to express obligation ought to pay our debts, advisability ought to take care of yourself, natural expectation ought to be here by now, or logical consequence the result ought to be infinity


\ˈȯ(ḵ)t \

Definition of ought (Entry 2 of 4)

transitive verb

1 chiefly Scotland : possess

2 chiefly Scotland : owe


\ˈȯt \

Definition of ought (Entry 3 of 4)

: moral obligation : duty


\ˈȯt, ˈät\

Definition of ought (Entry 4 of 4)

archaic spelling of

Examples of ought in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Auxiliary verb

Stated differently, should the federal government or states’ governments decide whether sports betting ought to be lawful? Michael Mccann, SI.com, "Why New Jersey Won Its Supreme Court Battle to Legalize Sports Betting," 14 May 2018 And while sales are one way to gauge the will of the people, the marketplace is fickle. Americans ought to be cautious before making corporations their moral compass or primary vehicle for reform. Adam Winkler, The New Republic, "Why big business is suddenly into liberal politics," 30 Apr. 2018 The kind of diversity that has brought both of them into the spotlight ought to be the norm rather than singled out, to the point that the comparison wouldn’t be considered necessary in the first place. Karen Han, Teen Vogue, "No, Crazy Rich Asians Isn't the "Asian Black Panther"," 27 Apr. 2018 In large part, that’s because anti-abortionist’s argument hinges upon the notion that life is always sacred and ought never be taken. Jennifer Wright, Harper's BAZAAR, "Abortion Is Not Murder," 13 Apr. 2018 In most cases, unless a reliable soil test suggests otherwise, that ought to be a high-nitrogen, lawn-type fertilizer. Neil Sperry, star-telegram, "Shady spots are like the Goldilocks of gardening. Here, four plants that are just right | Fort Worth Star-Telegram," 30 Mar. 2018 Instead of brain tissue, the doctors found a 9cm (~3.5 inch) pressurized pocket of air where much of his right frontal lobe ought to be. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Doctors shocked by 3.5-inch air bubble where part of man’s brain should be," 13 Mar. 2018 Both Redente and Matviak maintain that Sidney’s struggles ought to concern people across the country in areas that can no longer be protected from climate change. Christopher Flavelle, Bloomberg.com, "America’s Last-Ditch Climate Strategy of Retreat Isn’t Going So Well," 2 May 2018 Broadway has come to rely on subsidized testing grounds, but nonprofit theaters ought to be raising the bar. Charles Mcnulty, latimes.com, "Tony Award nominations reflect an anemic year for original ideas. Here's a critic's take on the bright spots," 1 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Everyone loves a winner, so MLS ought to recognize that. Tim Sullivan, The Courier-Journal, "Soccer stadium start signals new possibilities for Possibility City," 28 June 2018 The state’s leaders ought to be looking for regional solutions. Amy Chance, sacbee, ""Build a lot more of it": What California can do to solve its housing problem," 18 June 2018 Here’s the first full trailer for Amazon’s TV adaptation of Jack Ryan, the Tom Clancy novel about a CIA analyst who ends up in far more action-packed situations than his job title ought to put him in. Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge, "New trailers: Luke Cage, Dumbo, The Grinch, and more," 16 June 2018 And that, in turn, changes the way creators ought to think about their creations. Daniel H. Pink, The Atlantic, "The Future of Television Is Being Able to Pick Shows by Length," 11 June 2018 Why is there a time of physical separation between husband and wife every month — a law found in one of this week's Torah portions? (Leviticus 15) To be sure, a mandate ought to be observed no matter — but is there a rationale? Rabbi Avi Weiss, Jewish Journal, "Explaining the laws of family purity," 16 Apr. 2018 For Christians, Orbán's revival of a religious identity in Hungary ought to be rejuvenating. Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor, "As Hungary votes, memories of a mythical past loom large," 6 Apr. 2018 While Jews are no longer enslaved, there are other injustices that ought to be considered and reflected upon during Passover, Caplan said. Howard Ludwig, Daily Southtown, "Passover begins Friday night — 10 things to know," 30 Mar. 2018 Additionally, Oshkosh has replaced the standard barn doors with a roll-up door, which ought to ease the loading and unloading of packages. Greg Fink, Car and Driver, "This Ford Transit USPS Truck Prototype Could Be Hauling Your Mail Soon," 15 Mar. 2018

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

Auxiliary verb

12th century, in the meaning defined above


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1678, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ought

Auxiliary verb

Middle English oughte (1st & 3rd singular present indicative), from oughte, 1st & 3rd singular past indicative & subjunctive of owen to own, owe — more at owe


Middle English oughte, 1st & 3rd singular past indicative of owen

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ought

Dictionary Entries near ought

Ouessant, Île d'







Phrases Related to ought

for aught one knows

Statistics for ought

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ought

The first known use of ought was in the 12th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for ought



English Language Learners Definition of ought

—used to indicate what is expected

—used to say or suggest what should be done


helping verb
\ˈȯt \

Kids Definition of ought

1 used to show duty You ought to obey your parents.

2 used to show what it would be wise to do You ought to take care of that cough.

3 used to show what is naturally expected They ought to be here by now.

4 used to show what is correct You ought to get nine for the answer.

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on ought

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


a state of commotion or excitement

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!