: 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
We owe no income tax.
I owe the bank a lot of money.
Additional payments are owed on the mortgage.
I still owe on the car.
I owe you a drink.
I owe you my thanks.
She still owes me for all the times I've helped her out. See More
Recent Examples on the WebAdditionally, your parents do not owe you tuition for a private college.—Amy Dickinson, Washington Post, 23 Nov. 2023 Major artists such as as Sean Kingston, Adele and Calvin Harris owed the launch of their careers to MySpace.—Jonah Valdez, Los Angeles Times, 23 Nov. 2023 The breach of contract lawsuit claimed that the label owed more than $750 million in royalties to various artists.—Evan Minsker, Pitchfork, 22 Nov. 2023 Bye Bye Barry forgoes sensationalism and squawking beads for an implicit statement of the obvious: Barry Sanders owes you nothing.—Chris Vognar, Rolling Stone, 21 Nov. 2023 The photos accompanying the listing make clear the car has some dings, but the finish looks to be in remarkably good condition, owing, in no small part, to having spent the last 42 years sheltered from the elements.—Bryan Hood, Robb Report, 21 Nov. 2023 Argentina already owes the International Monetary Fund more than forty billion dollars, most of which was provided during Macri’s Presidency.—John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 21 Nov. 2023 The court is ordering Teran and Batista to pay just a small sampling of the many songwriters and artists who are owed royalties as a result of the scam.—Kristin Robinson, Billboard, 20 Nov. 2023 Ultimately the Good Meat deal would collapse into a legal dispute, with bioreactor firm ABEC alleging that the company owes more than $61 million in unpaid invoices.—Matt Reynolds, WIRED, 16 Nov. 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'owe.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Middle English aghen, aughen, ouen, ouwen "to have, possess, own, owe (money, a debt), be obligated to render, be supposed to, ought," going back to Old English āgan (1st &3rd singular present tense āh, āg, plural āgon, past tense āhte, past participle āgen) "to possess, own, have, come into possession of, have as an obligation," going back to Germanic *aigan- "to possess" (whence also Old Frisian āga, ēga "to possess, be obligated to," Old Saxon ēgan "to have, possess," Middle Dutch eigen, Old High German eigan, Old Icelandic eiga, Gothic aigan), going back to a reduplicated perfect *He-Hói̯ḱ-/He-Hiḱ- of an Indo-European verbal base *Heiḱ- "appropriate, acquire," whence also Sanskrit ī́śe "(s/he) owns, possesses, is master of," Avestan ise "(s/he) is lord over," and perhaps Tocharian B aik- "know, recognize" (assuming a shift in sense from physical possession to mental possession)
Old English āgan was a preterit-present verb, as were the modal auxiliaries which survive in Modern English as can entry 1, shall, must entry 1, may;1, etc. In Middle English the weak past tense forms oȝte, oughte, etc., descended from Old English āhte, gradually lost tense reference and transitioned to an independent modal verb, continued into Modern English as ought entry 1. (The original senses "owe" and "own, possess" survived longer in Scots ought, aucht, aicht, etc.—see ought entry 2.) As this occurred, a regularized past tense and participle oued appeared. The sense "be obligated to pay, owe" and more generally "be obliged to, have to" arose already in Old English: in the Lindisfarne Gospels agan to gyldenne "have (something) to pay" was used to gloss Latin dēbēre "to be obliged to render, owe"—hence redde quod debes "pay me that thou owest" (Matthew 18:28, KJV) was rendered "geld [money] þæt ðu aht to geldanne." (An edition of the Old English Gospels based on the Corpus Christi College, Cambridge manuscript has "Agyf þæt þu me scealt," using a form of the modal verb scealshall to render dēbēre). This semantic shift is parallel to that of have, by which "to have something to do" is in effect reanalyzed as "to have to do something." — Compare also own entry 1.