\ 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

Yes, the solution ought to start in children’s homes. Alan J. Borsuk, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Borsuk: Literacy may not be a constitutional right, but it's a life imperative," 6 July 2018 Our civic, corporate and government leaders ought to want to endear the gifts, talents and value of those afflicted and oppressed within this fabric of oppression, bringing greater peace, public safety and prosperity for themselves and all people. kansascity, "Jean Paul Bradshaw," 30 June 2018 And that next president ought to have this appointment, which will affect the Supreme Court, for probably a quarter of a century. Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, "For the record: Supreme Court nominees considered in ‘election years’," 27 June 2018 Her definition of the American sonnet (which Hayes quotes in his acknowledgments) suggests that the form ought to be issue-driven, improvisational, minimalist and fun. Walton Muyumba, latimes.com, "The right poetry collection for right now: Terrance Hayes' 'American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin'," 14 June 2018 Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer stressed that corporate money ought to have no influence over city policy decisions. Beau Evans, NOLA.com, "New Orleans City Council to investigate Entergy for paying actors to lobby for power plant," 18 May 2018 Amid such setbacks, gig-economy companies argued that governments ought to be on their side. The Economist, "Run, TaskRabbit, run: July 2030," 5 July 2018 The conversation about what ought to happen to families once they’re apprehended by border agents is going to have to be a long-term one. Dara Lind, Vox, "Trump administration to release hundreds of immigrant families from detention," 27 Dec. 2018 One thing is for certain: Those who buy the Rimowa x Off-White case ought to make sure its contents are worthy of spotlighting. Fortune, "Rimowa and Virgil Abloh Are Creating Completely See-Through Luggage," 5 June 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.

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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

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Dictionary Entries near ought

Ouessant, Île d'







Statistics for ought

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Time Traveler for ought

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

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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.

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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).


to corrupt or become corrupted

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