set·​off | \ ˈset-ˌȯf How to pronounce setoff (audio) \

Definition of setoff

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : something that is set off against another thing:
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

set off; setting off; sets off

Definition of set off (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

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

Noun the architect used stone carvings as setoffs for the building's marble facing
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The pandemic slowed census response and set off waves of migration that complicated the effort to count where every American was living on April 1. Paul Overberg, WSJ, "Census Shows South and Mountain West Gain Political Power From Population Growth," 26 Apr. 2021 The Italian study, Daughton explained, showed his idea worked and set off an explosion of interest in this new type of wastewater research. Miranda Weiss, Smithsonian Magazine, "Sewage Has Stories to Tell. Why Won’t the U.S. Listen?," 26 Apr. 2021 The largest number of unaccompanied children ever at the border created massive overcrowding at Customs and Border Protection facilities and set off a mad scramble for temporary space at convention centers, military bases and other large venues. Anchorage Daily News, "Biden’s first 100 days: Where he stands on key promises," 26 Apr. 2021 The state sued the administration and set off a legal battle that was still winding its way through the federal courts when Biden took office. Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times, "EPA to restore California’s power over car pollution rules, reversing Trump," 26 Apr. 2021 The friend told others and set off across the Pacific Ocean himself. Michael Luo, The New Yorker, "The Forgotten History of the Purging of Chinese from America," 22 Apr. 2021 The story went viral, and set off a firestorm, with some arguing that its sloppy reporting obscured the real issues at its core about consent and dating. Kate Aurthur,, "Aziz Ansari’s ‘Master of None’ Season 3 debuting on Netflix in May," 21 Apr. 2021 On Wednesday, the owners signed off on a major change in the numbering system that had been in place since 1973 (with a few tweaks since) and likely set off a stampede for single digits. Mark Inabinett |, al, "Could Derrick Henry return to his Alabama 2 in the NFL?," 21 Apr. 2021 Passing cars honked their horns and someone set off an air horn as people converged on the circle around the statue. Washington Post, "In D.C. the guilty verdict in Chauvin trial is met with cheers, tears and relief," 20 Apr. 2021

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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Time Traveler for setoff

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The first known use of setoff was circa 1598

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Cite this Entry

“Setoff.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for setoff


\ ˈset-ˌȯf \

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

More from Merriam-Webster on setoff

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for setoff

Nglish: Translation of setoff for Spanish Speakers

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