\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

How ought outspoken survivors all feel, having aired indignities and pain publicly and across generations, to receive lip service from politicians, but ultimately see justice evaporate again? Sarah Stankorb, Glamour, "Are Hashtags Like #MeToo and #BelieveWomen Hurting or Helping Survivors?," 15 Oct. 2018 And the Clintons certainly did not believe that the attorney general ought to, as an ethos, prosecute the law for the president’s political benefit. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "The Gangster Morality of Anti-Anti-Trumpism," 30 May 2018 Pushing back against them are the anti-gentrification activists who believe these upwardly mobile Latinos ought to know better. Paul Thornton, latimes.com, "Why Mueller will remain Trump's menace," 19 May 2018 Yet, in the current delicate balance of the Supreme Court, his rigid ideology will tip the scales of justice against the kind of country America is and ought to be. Fox News, "Levin: Democrats and the judicial confirmation process," 24 Sep. 2018 Dating Jesus allowed Katie to take control of her professional life within a context that insisted that, after serving God, her top priority ought to be getting married. Good Housekeeping, "How the Purity Movement Made Women Giddy About Dating Jesus, and Ashamed to Masturbate," 27 Aug. 2018 Rather than zipping through problems, the coach ought to invest discussion in gap areas. Hafeez Lakhani, Seventeen, "Here's Exactly How To Slay the SAT and ACT," 22 July 2018 As skeptics in the cryptography community have repeatedly pointed out, the true Satoshi ought to have access to the cryptographic keys that control the first bitcoins—coins that have stayed put for a decade. Garrett M. Graff, WIRED, "Did Satoshi Nakamoto Write This Book Excerpt? A Wired Investigation," 1 July 2018 Other things can be timed and ought to be learned on schedule. Todd R. Nelson, The Christian Science Monitor, "Of time, tide, and graduation," 27 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

Look-up Popularity

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 \

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

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a soft lustrous wool fabric with mohair

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