ob·​li·​ga·​tion | \ ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən How to pronounce obligation (audio) \

Definition of obligation

1 : the action of obligating oneself to a course of action (as by a promise or vow)
2a : something (such as a formal contract, a promise, or the demands of conscience or custom) that obligates one to a course of action made an obligation to pay their children's college expenses
b : a debt security (such as a mortgage or corporate bond)
c : a commitment (as by a government) to pay a particular sum of money also : an amount owed under such an obligation Unable to meet its obligations, the company went into bankruptcy.
3a : a condition or feeling of being obligated felt an obligation to vote
b : a debt of gratitude returned the favor as an obligation
4 : something one is bound to do : duty, responsibility countries in which military service is an obligation fulfilled their familial obligations

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Examples of obligation in a Sentence

She believes that all people have a moral obligation to defend human rights. He argues that people in a community have certain obligations to each other. She failed to fulfill her obligations as a parent.
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Recent Examples on the Web If nothing changes, the increase is expected to threaten both city services and the city's ability to fully fund its pension obligation. Alison Dirr, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6 Oct. 2021 As a consequence, Wen takes seriously her obligation to help others. Michael Millenson, Forbes, 3 Oct. 2021 The legal barrier, some park purists hoped, would force the school district to honor its contractual obligation to leave the park. San Diego Union-Tribune, 2 Oct. 2021 Virtually all religious traditions, after all, emphasize our moral obligation to protect the vulnerable. The Salt Lake Tribune, 21 Sep. 2021 Businesses that fail to meet their obligations to stakeholders will fail to meet their obligation to their shareholders — which is to enhance profits. Andy Puzder, National Review, 31 Aug. 2021 At a hearing Tuesday in Santa Ana, Selna agreed that prosecutors’ failure to give Avenatti the expense data had violated their obligation to disclose all evidence that might be favorable to the defendant. Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times, 24 Aug. 2021 What is my ethical obligation to report my workplace to a federal or local agency for these violations of Covid-19 protocols? Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Times, 17 Aug. 2021 That reveal — which involved human feces, a confrontation between two enemies, and an accidental stabbing with a pineapple-carving knife — fulfilled its obligation to shock, awe, and make viewers go ewwww. Jen Chaney, Vulture, 15 Aug. 2021

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for obligation

Middle English obligacioun, borrowed from Anglo-French obligacion, borrowed from Latin obligātiōn-, obligātiō, from obligāre "to tie up, restrain by tying, place under a legal or moral constraint" + -tiōn- -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at oblige

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Time Traveler for obligation

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The first known use of obligation was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

12 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Obligation.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obligation. Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for obligation



English Language Learners Definition of obligation

: something that you must do because of a law, rule, promise, etc.
: something that you must do because it is morally right


ob·​li·​ga·​tion | \ ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən How to pronounce obligation (audio) \

Kids Definition of obligation

1 : something a person must do because of the demands of a promise or contract Make sure you know your rights and obligations before you sign.
2 : something a person feels he or she must do : duty I can't go because of other obligations.
3 : a feeling of being indebted for an act of kindness Don't feel any obligation to return the favor.


ob·​li·​ga·​tion | \ ˌä-blə-ˈgā-shən How to pronounce obligation (audio) \

Legal Definition of obligation

1 : a promise, acknowledgment, or agreement (as a contract) that binds one to a specific performance (as payment) also : the binding power of such an agreement or indication held that the amendment did not unconstitutionally impair the obligations of contracts Davis v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 521 N.W.2d 366 (1994)
2 : a debt security (as a corporate or government bond)
collateralized debt obligation
: a security backed by a pool of diversified securities that usually do not include mortgages
collateralized loan obligation
: a security backed by a pool of commercial loans
collateralized mortgage obligation
: a bond collateralized by a pool of mortgage obligations or pass-through securities and paid according to the maturity and amortization schedule of its class and not directly from the underlying obligations

called also CMO

3 : what one is obligated to do, satisfy, or fulfill: as
a : a commitment to pay a particular amount of money does not create a debt, liability, or other obligation, legal or moralState v. Florida Dev. Fin. Corp., 650 So. 2d 14 (1995) also : an amount owed in such a commitment
b : a duty arising from law, contract, or morality had a legal obligation as an employer a contractual obligation
4 in the civil law of Louisiana : a relationship that binds one party to a performance (as a payment or transfer) or nonperformance for another party — see also contract, offense, quasi-offense

Note: An obligation under civil law may arise by operation of law, naturally, or by contract or other declaration of will. The elements of an obligation are: the parties, an object, the relationship by virtue of which one party is bound to perform for the other's benefit, and, in the case of conventional obligations, a cause.

conditional obligation
: an obligation that is dependent on an uncertain event
conventional obligation
: an obligation taking the form of a contract
heritable obligation
: an obligation that may be enforced by the successor of the obligee or against the successor of the obligor
joint obligation
1 : an obligation binding different obligors to a performance for one obligee
2 : an obligation binding one obligor to a performance for different obligees

Note: In civil law, one of two or more obligors in a joint obligation is only liable for his or her portion of the performance.

natural obligation
: an obligation arising from moral duty that is implied but not enforceable by the law
several obligation
1 : any of the obligations binding different obligors to separate performances for one obligee
2 : any of the obligations binding an obligor to separate performances for different obligees
solidary obligation
: an obligation under which any of two or more obligors can be held liable for the entire performance (as payment of a debt)

Note: Solidary obligation is similar to joint and several liability in common law.

More from Merriam-Webster on obligation

Nglish: Translation of obligation for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of obligation for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about obligation


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