1 of 4

auxiliary verb

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


2 of 4


transitive verb

chiefly Scotland : possess
chiefly Scotland : owe


3 of 4


: moral obligation : duty


4 of 4

archaic spelling of aught

Examples of ought in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Auxiliary verb
But forward-thinking boards ought to start looking at where a company is going—ask who’s ready to deal with technological change or a fast-growing diverse population—to find their next chair, rather than assume a former CEO is most qualified. Lila MacLellan, Fortune, 3 Feb. 2023 Executives and other representatives, like celebrity endorsers, ought to tread carefully, experts say, and so should investors. Ashley Cullins, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Feb. 2023 Some even claim that the AI app ought to repeatedly warn you. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 27 Jan. 2023 They’ll be assigned the job of recommending what major construction projects the city ought to embark on during a 10-year period, beginning in 2025. Barbara Henry, San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 Jan. 2023 This is not to excuse the blue states, which ought to match their higher minimum wages with more generous tipping. Timothy Noah, The New Republic, 26 Jan. 2023 Again and again, law enforcement overlooked major transgressions that ought to have stopped Couzens and Carrick in their tracks. Holly Thomas, CNN, 20 Jan. 2023 All those models share a commitment to fun, an attitude that driving ought to be a good time. Car and Driver, 17 Jan. 2023 Greg Loughlin, owner of Saddle Up Saloon, said during Tuesday’s Mobile City Council meeting that city officials ought to consider rolling back the entertainment district’s closing time from midnight to 9 p.m. al, 13 Jan. 2023
Marketing to younger consumers ought to amplify sustainability and social responsibility, Mr. McMillan said, subjects that wine is well-positioned to highlight. Eric Asimov, New York Times, 26 Jan. 2023 Those who find monetary success in life ought to use their position to serve others, said West. Ryan Anderson, Arkansas Online, 17 Jan. 2023 Chris Thomas, an adviser to Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, said Tuesday's election ought to be a vastly different experience. Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press, 8 Nov. 2022 Tesla’s board ought to be monitoring the length and intensity of the Tesla employees’ deployment to Twitter, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management. Alexa Corse, WSJ, 3 Nov. 2022 Zhu said there ought to be efforts to re-examine how borrowers are qualified for mortgages, accepting a variety of tax documents to create more access for Latinos to buy homes. Dallas News, 12 Oct. 2022 If the Department of Justice established a violation of the consent decree, unwinding the merger ought to be on the table. August Brown, Anchorage Daily News, 25 Jan. 2023 Democrats and sane Republicans ought to be putting this conversation to bed. Allison Hope, CNN, 25 Jan. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Auxiliary verb

Middle English aghten, aughten, oughten "to be obliged to, owe," from construal as an independent verb of aghte, aughte, oughte "possessed, owned, owed," past indicative & subjunctive of aghen, aughen, owen "to possess, own, owe," going back to Old English āhte, 1st & 3rd person singular past indicative of āgan "to possess, own" — more at owe


early Scots aucht "to own, owe, be incumbent on," past tense used as present of aw "to own, be under an obligation, owe," going back to Old English āgan "to possess, own" — more at owe


derivative of ought entry 1

First Known Use

Auxiliary Verb

12th century, in the meaning defined above


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1678, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near ought

Cite this Entry

“Ought.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ought. Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


helping verb
used to express duty
we ought to pay our debts
used to express what it would be wise to do
you ought to take care of yourself
used to express what is naturally expected
they ought to be here by now
used to express what is correct
the result ought to be zero

More from Merriam-Webster on ought

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