set·​off | \ˈset-ˌȯf \

Definition of setoff 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : something that is set off against another thing:

a : decoration, ornament

b : compensation, counterbalance

2 : the reduction or discharge of a debt or claim by setting against it a distinct claim in favor of the debtor or party who is the object of the first claim (as in a lawsuit) also : the offsetting claim itself

set off


Definition of set off (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : to put in relief : show up by contrast

b : adorn, embellish

c : to set apart : make distinct or outstanding

2a : offset, compensate more variety in the Lancashire weather to set off its most disagreeable phasesGeog. Jour.

b : to make a setoff of the respective totals shall be set off against one another— O. R. Hobson

3a : to set in motion : cause to begin

b : to cause to explode

4 : to measure off on a surface

intransitive verb

: to start out on a course or a journey set off for home

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Examples of setoff in a Sentence


the architect used stone carvings as setoffs for the building's marble facing

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The six of them set off from Port Blair, the capital of the 572-island archipelago, at 8 p.m. on Nov. 14. Rajesh Roy, WSJ, "American Missionary Killed by Isolated Tribe Wrote of Confrontation With the Group," 22 Nov. 2018 Thursday's accidental revelation set off a flurry of subsequent reporting on the Assange prosecution. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Report: Charges against Assange relate to Russian hacking," 17 Nov. 2018 The search set off a frenzy, as municipalities and states clamored to get Amazon’s attention, some offering billions of dollars in incentives. Matt Day, The Seattle Times, "Amazon selects New York, Northern Virginia, for HQ2 expansion, reports say," 13 Nov. 2018 The earthquake in Central Sulawesi set off a tsunami and has devastated several communities. Fox News, "Volcano erupts on same Indonesian island as earlier quake," 3 Oct. 2018 This set off a ripple effect of theories suggesting Markle is just some political pawn in England's plan to reclaim America, which is…nonsense. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "7 Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Conspiracy Theories So Ridiculous You Have to Laugh," 18 July 2018 This immediately set off a fire storm of tweets featuring memes of Melania next to yellow objects. Amira Rasool, Teen Vogue, "Melania Trump's Yellow J. Mendel Gown Gets Meme'd on Social Media," 16 July 2018 That one click set off a social media firestorm, and even earned Machado the back page of the New York Daily News. The Baltimore Sun,, "Orioles' Manny Machado likes Instagram pic of himself in Yankees uniform as trade talk intensifies," 12 July 2018 There was an element to this with the Mueller report that just set off alarm bells for me. Eric Johnson, Recode, "The media is responsible for President Trump and it still hasn’t learned from 2016, says Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi," 18 Oct. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'setoff.' 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 setoff


1621, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1598, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

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Dictionary Entries near setoff


set nut

set off


set-off man

setoff sheet

set on

Statistics for setoff

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for setoff

The first known use of setoff was circa 1598

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Legal Definition of set-off 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the reduction or discharge of a debt by setting against it a claim in favor of the debtor specifically : the reduction or discharge of a party's debt or claim by an assertion of another claim arising out of another transaction or cause of action against the other party

2a : a right to seek reduction or discharge of a debt or claim by countering a party's claim with an independent claim

b : a counterclaim made by a defendant against a plaintiff for reduction or discharge of a debt by reason of an independent debt owed by the plaintiff to the defendant — compare recoupment sense 2

set off

transitive verb

Legal Definition of set off (Entry 2 of 2)

: to reduce or discharge by set-off : offset

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More from Merriam-Webster on setoff

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with setoff

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for setoff

Nglish: Translation of setoff for Spanish Speakers

Comments on setoff

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


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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