\ ˈdet How to pronounce debt (audio) \

Definition of debt

1 : something owed : obligation unable to pay off his debts owe them a debt of gratitude a criminal's debt to society
2 : a state of being under obligation to pay or repay someone or something in return for something received : a state of owing deeply in debt to creditors
3 law and business : the common-law action for the recovery of money held to be due
4 : sin, trespass Forgive us our debts.

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Other Words from debt

debtless \ ˈdet-​ləs How to pronounce debt (audio) \ adjective

Examples of debt in a Sentence

He is trying to pay off gambling debts. The company has run up huge debts. Their debts are piling up. He's been working three jobs in an attempt to get out of debt. The company was in debt but is now turning a profit. I am deep in debt. I'm thousands of dollars in debt. She went into debt to pay for college. I'm worried that we will fall into debt.
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Recent Examples on the Web Finally traveled after being in debt for over a decade. Phoebe Robinson,, 16 Sep. 2021 Many of the stories are harrowing, with student loan borrowers who have worked in public service or at a non-profit for 10 years, but still haven’t received student loan cancellation and are drowning in student loan debt. Zack Friedman, Forbes, 15 Sep. 2021 And while Endeavor recently raised its revenue target for the year and slowed the pace of its cash burn, the company still has $5.9 billion in debt that requires hefty interest payments. Matt Donnelly, Variety, 15 Sep. 2021 Dutch Bros plans to use proceeds from its IPO to pay off nearly $200 million in debt and to fuel the company’s growth. oregonlive, 14 Sep. 2021 But having taken on $360 million in debt in 2015 to finance the project, the academy was in too deep to do anything but press forward. Los Angeles Times, 12 Sep. 2021 According to The American Association of University Women’s analysis, Black women are saddled with an average of $41,466.05 in student loan debt one year after earning their undergraduate degrees than white women, who average $33,851.98. Tatiana Walk-morris,, 9 Sep. 2021 Former Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner’s campaign is heavily in debt. Dustin Gardiner, San Francisco Chronicle, 3 Sep. 2021 West and his co-producers are essentially working with two palettes: one that is digital, almost confrontationally synthetic, and another dominated by organs and choral vocals, that is in debt to the church. Paul Thompson, Rolling Stone, 1 Sep. 2021

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

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

History and Etymology for debt

Middle English dette, debte, from Anglo-French dette something owed, from Vulgar Latin *debita, from Latin, plural of debitum debt, from neuter of debitus, past participle of debēre to owe, from de- + habēre to have — more at give

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Learn More About debt

Time Traveler for debt

Time Traveler

The first known use of debt was in the 13th century

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Dictionary Entries Near debt



debt book

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Statistics for debt

Last Updated

22 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Debt.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for debt



English Language Learners Definition of debt

: an amount of money that you owe to a person, bank, company, etc.
: the state of owing money to someone or something
: the fact that you have been influenced or helped by someone or something


\ ˈdet How to pronounce debt (audio) \

Kids Definition of debt

1 : something owed to another
2 : the condition of owing something I am in debt to you for all your help.
3 : sin entry 1 sense 1 We ask forgiveness of our debts.



Legal Definition of debt

1 : something owed: as
a : a specific sum of money or a performance due another especially by agreement (as a loan agreement) to pay the debts…of the United StatesU.S. Constitution art. I a debt for alimony
b : an obligation to pay or perform on another's claim discharged the debt — compare asset, equity sense 4

Note: It is often up to the courts to decide what is or is not a debt under various laws. Courts disagree whether criminal restitution is a debt under the Bankruptcy Code.

antecedent debt
: debt that is incurred prior to a property transfer paying or securing the debt — compare preference
bad debt
: a debt that cannot be collected

Note: An income tax deduction is allowed for bad debts.

consumer debt
: debt that is incurred by an individual primarily for the purchase of consumer goods or services — compare consumer credit
judgment debt
: a debt established by a judgment and enforceable by a legal process (as an execution of judgment or attachment)
c : a state of owing in debt
d : the aggregate of money owed the national debt
2 : the common-law action for the recovery of a specified sum of money or a sum that can be simply and certainly determined

called also action of debt, writ of debt

— compare assumpsit, covenant

History and Etymology for debt

Old French dette, ultimately from Latin debita, plural of debitum debt, from neuter of debitus, past participle of debere to owe

More from Merriam-Webster on debt

Nglish: Translation of debt for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of debt for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about debt


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