\ ˈȯt How to pronounce ought (audio) \

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 How to pronounce ought (audio) \

Definition of ought (Entry 2 of 4)

transitive verb

1 chiefly Scotland : possess
2 chiefly Scotland : owe


\ ˈȯt How to pronounce ought (audio) \

Definition of ought (Entry 3 of 4)

: moral obligation : duty


\ ˈȯt How to pronounce ought (audio) , 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

The reality of how tipping works is often at odds with the popular conception among consumers that a good tip ought to be earned by the worker—that is, something extra on top of their core duties. Alison Griswold, Quartz, "Tip your delivery worker in cash, not via an app," 8 July 2019 Therefore the law ought to be kept even when its ethical underpinnings are not understood. Rabbi Avi Weiss, sun-sentinel.com, "The limitations of the human mind," 8 July 2019 Missing from the fair entrance gates early on Thursday were animal rights protesters who say horse racing is a cruel spectacle that ought to be discarded like yesterday’s Racing Form. Steve Rubenstein, SFChronicle.com, "Horse-racing diehards at Pleasanton track concede sport needs to be made safe in wake of new law," 27 June 2019 Less compelling are the older versions of Allie and Noah played by Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes’ mother) and James Garner, whose presence adds more schmaltz than any narrative framing device ought to. Anne Cohen, refinery29.com, "Did Nicholas Sparks Kill The Notebook? Or, Was It Always Doomed?," 25 June 2019 The world, and workplaces, should be filled with such forms, and gender inclusivity ought to be both sensitive and commonplace. Lila Maclellan, Quartz at Work, "Those she/her/hers at the end of email messages are more than a passing trend," 24 June 2019 Our father had just endured the worst days of his life, indeed was still in the midst of them, and such a lapse ought to be both explicable and forgivable. Justin Taylor, Harper's magazine, "What it Means to Be Alive," 10 June 2019 The war in question is over the Securities and Exchange Commission’s contention that cryptocurrencies ought to be regulated like securities when they are offered in bulk sales through something called an initial coin offering. Aaron Pressman, Fortune, "The SEC's Kik Crypto Case Shows Just How Far Crypto Has To Go—Data Sheet," 6 June 2019 Some called for all leopard-print-midi-skirt devotees to be left alone because the piece is practically a neutral and everybody ought to own one. Tara Gonzalez, Glamour, "Yeah, You Really Do Need a Leopard-Print Midi Skirt," 30 May 2019

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'







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 How to pronounce ought (audio) \

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

More from Merriam-Webster on ought

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with ought

Spanish Central: Translation of ought

Nglish: Translation of ought for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ought for Arabic Speakers

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).


something desired as essential

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

What's that Smell?! Quiz

  • wide eyed dog smelling rose
  • Someone who is hircine smells like a:
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!