owe

verb

owed; owing

transitive verb

1
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
2
: to be indebted for
owed his wealth to his father
owes much to good luck
3
a
: 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
Phrases
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.
Recent Examples on the Web California What does California owe the descendants of enslaved Africans? Andrew J. Campa, Los Angeles Times, 23 May 2024 In total, TfL says, foreign embassies owe a total of £143.5 million ($183 million) in congestion charges. Ryan Hogg, Fortune Europe, 22 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for owe 

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.

Word History

Etymology

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)

Note: 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 sceal shall 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.

First Known Use

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

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

Cite this Entry

“Owe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/owe. Accessed 30 May. 2024.

Kids Definition

owe

verb
owed; owing
1
a
: to be obligated to pay or repay
owes me $5
b
: to be indebted to
owes the grocer for supplies
c
: to be in debt
owes for her house
2
: to have or possess as something obtained from or given to
owes much to good luck

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