\ ˈō How to pronounce owe (audio) \
owed; owing

Definition of owe

transitive verb

1a(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
2 : to be indebted for owed his wealth to his father owes much to good luck
3a : 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.
b archaic : possess, own

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

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web The payments, however, were not protected from private debt collectors, who could still garnish the relief funds if a person owed money to a private institution. Mica Soellner, Washington Examiner, "Senators introduce bipartisan bill to prevent relief payments from being garnished by private debt collectors," 22 May 2020 The government says Syriatel owes 134 billion Syrian pounds, around $77 million at the current exchange rate on the parallel market. NBC News, "Syria imposes travel ban on President Assad's tycoon cousin Rami Makhlouf," 22 May 2020 Rights associated with the EU, such as the ability to trade across borders or to seek work in another EU member state, owe as much to its judges as to its politicians. The Economist, "Charlemagne The wizards of Luxembourg," 21 May 2020 The Kushner Companies, in which Jared still holds a large financial stake, has come under scrutiny in recent years for its litigious pursuit of tenants who allegedly owed back rent or broke leases, and for the poor conditions of many of the units. Alec Macgillis, ProPublica, "Rent Is Still Due in Kushnerville," 21 May 2020 The Civil War was a public-health emergency—more soldiers died of disease than of battlefield wounds, owing partly to the miserable condition of the Army’s medical apparatus. Matt Dellinger, The New Yorker, "Frederick Law Olmsted’s War on Disease and Disunity," 16 May 2020 There is a difference between social distancing and house arrest, and Governor Newsom owes it to his constituents to stay on the right side of that line. The Editors, National Review, "Free O.C.," 4 May 2020 Every box call made since owes a debt to the Gibson box. Phil Bourjaily, Field & Stream, "The Turkey Gear Hall of Fame," 4 May 2020 Radio Caroline’s two ships — the ferry had been joined by a 1920s-era cargo schooner named Mi Amigo — were towed away by Dutch authorities because Mr. O’Rahilly owed money to Dutch suppliers, and the ferry was sold for scrap to pay its debts. Penelope Green, BostonGlobe.com, "Ronan O’Rahilly, pioneer of Britain’s pirate radio, at 79," 3 May 2020

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.

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First Known Use of owe

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 3b

History and Etymology for 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

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Time Traveler for owe

Time Traveler

The first known use of owe was before the 12th century

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Statistics for owe

Last Updated

27 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Owe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/owe. Accessed 27 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for owe


How to pronounce owe (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of owe

: 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


\ ˈō How to pronounce owe (audio) \
owed; owing

Kids Definition of owe

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.

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More from Merriam-Webster on owe

Spanish Central: Translation of owe

Nglish: Translation of owe for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of owe for Arabic Speakers

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