verb \ ˈō \
Updated on: 9 Jan 2018

Definition of owe

owed; owing
transitive verb
1 a archaic : possess, own
b : to have or bear (an emotion or attitude) to someone or something
  • owes the boss a grudge
  • owes his friend an apology
  • They owe allegiance to their country.
  • Children owe their parents respect.
2 a (1) : to be under obligation to pay or repay in return for something received : be indebted in the sum of
  • owes me $5
(2) : to be under obligation to render (something, such as duty or service)
  • I owe you a favor.
  • A lawyer owes her client legal advice.
b : to be indebted to
  • owes the grocer for supplies
3 : to be indebted for
  • owed his wealth to his father
  • owes much to good luck
intransitive verb
1 : to be in debt
  • owes for his house
2 : to be attributable
  • an idea that owes to Greek philosophy
owe it
: to have a responsibility to do something to satisfy an obligation or duty
  • owes it to voters to explain his reasons
  • I owed it to her to give her this opportunity
  • —Colin MacIness

Examples of owe in a Sentence

  1. We owe no income tax.

  2. I owe the bank a lot of money.

  3. Additional payments are owed on the mortgage.

  4. I still owe on the car.

  5. I owe you a drink.

  6. I owe you my thanks.

  7. She still owes me for all the times I've helped her out.

Recent Examples of owe from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'owe.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of owe

Middle English, to possess, own, owe, from Old English āgan; akin to Old High German eigun (1st & 3rd plural present indicative) possess, Sanskrit īśe he possesses

OWE Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of owe for English Language Learners

  • : to need to pay or repay money to a person, bank, business, etc.

  • : to need to do or give something to someone who has done something for you or given something to you

  • —used to say that something should be done for or given to someone

OWE Defined for Kids


verb \ ˈō \

Definition of owe for Students

owed; owing
1 : to be obligated to pay, give, or return
  • I still owe 100 dollars.
  • I don't owe any favors to anyone.
2 : to be in debt to
  • You owe me money.
3 : to have as a result
  • I owe my success to hard work.

Learn More about owe

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


to make or become suitable or fit

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Winter Words Quiz

  • fox-in-front-of-cabin-in-winter
  • Another word for ‘a person who travels to an area of warmth and sun, especially in winter’ is a:
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

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!