Definition of earn in English:



  • 1Obtain (money) in return for labour or services:

    ‘he earns his living as a lorry driver’
    [with two objects] ‘earn yourself a few pounds’
    • ‘Anyone who earns money or receives income should pay taxes and the truth is, every one does pay taxes.’
    • ‘This young boy also earns his pocket money having had some training in handling computers, she adds.’
    • ‘Like many a teenager, he became closeted in his bedroom, spending hours on his computer as he earned some money designing websites.’
    • ‘In an attempt to earn money he set about writing a novel, drawing on the experience of his financial disaster.’
    • ‘Fundamentally we have to earn the money to pay for services.’
    • ‘The professional dog walker is giving a service and has the right to earn a living.’
    • ‘In real terms, low-income workers earn on average $120 less than they did in 1984, he claims.’
    • ‘At present he earns his living by repairing photocopy and fax machines.’
    • ‘Consider a mother and daughter family unit where the poor elderly mother is bedridden and her daughter earns a gross salary of $5,000 a month but must leave home to work every day.’
    • ‘As a teenager, Monet's talent had declared itself well enough for him to be earning pocket money through selling caricatures.’
    • ‘Since then, how the Kents earn their money has been less clear, but it involves extensive world travel.’
    • ‘‘It is the farmer who earns his living from the land and as such it should be recognised as a tradeable asset,’ insisted Mr Alderman.’
    • ‘It is claimed funeral workers are being forced to work long hours of overtime to earn a decent wage.’
    • ‘She earns her living solely from painting, and her work hangs in important private and corporate collections in Trinidad and Jamaica.’
    • ‘For that service he earns a match fee of 20 and travelling expenses of 26 pence per mile.’
    • ‘Growing vegetables and raising livestock, the family earns about 8,000 yuan a year.’
    • ‘It is not only how he gets his pleasure but also how he earns his living.’
    • ‘I am a 52-year-old employee earning an annual salary of €60,000.’
    • ‘He earns his living as a British Telecom engineer.’
    • ‘Billy now earns well in excess of £35,000 and it is increasing steadily.’
    be paid, receive a salary of, take home, take home earnings of, gross
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    1. 1.1[with two objects] (of an activity) cause (someone) to obtain (money):
      ‘this latest win earned them $50,000 in prize money’
      • ‘It may be cruel, but there will come a time when the youthful athleticism that earns him so much money now will disappear.’
      • ‘An English tour in 1889 earned him enough money to undertake a period of study in Paris with d' Indy and Dukas.’
      • ‘A lifetime of land preservation earns rancher a $10,000 bonus and a much deserved thank you’
      • ‘If an activity doesn't earn you money, or make you rich, then there is no value attached to it.’
      • ‘He eked out a precarious living chiefly by writing short stories, some of which won praise but none of which earned him significant money.’
      • ‘I would be working full-time soon, and that would earn me enough money to live with a roommate.’
      • ‘Doing so earns you money but also produces unwanted waste.’
      • ‘Completing missions swiftly earns you money with which to upgrade your squad with more experienced operatives.’
      • ‘Most jobs that will earn you a good amount of money involve a fair bit of training.’
      • ‘Furthermore, it seemed unlikely to earn him any significant money.’
      • ‘I could do a whole range of boring commercial things which would earn me a lot of money, but I wouldn't do them.’
    2. 1.2 (of capital invested) gain (money) as interest or profit:
      ‘the dollars can be placed on deposit and earn interest’
      • ‘However, is all of the money being squirreled away earning as much interest as it could be?’
      • ‘However, it is also true that the cash can be put on deposit to earn interest in the meantime.’
      • ‘In the worst case scenario, tax is owed on the funds going into the account and also on the interest earned by the account.’
      • ‘The fund earns capital gains and losses from shares and not fixed interest.’
      • ‘The money market earns higher interest rates than their savings bank and credit union accounts.’
      • ‘The deposit earns interest and is generally refundable once you establish a satisfactory credit history.’
      • ‘An advantage to choosing this account would be that he would know his money would not earn any interest in any month he were to make a withdrawal.’
      • ‘Any income earned by the fund, in terms of dividends, interest or rental income, is exempt from income tax.’
      • ‘The money in your account earns some interest each year.’
      • ‘After that, the policy should be earning dividends high enough to cover the annual premium.’
      • ‘If customers pay their credit card accounts by the due date, they are probably using funds already on deposit earning no interest.’
      • ‘It is a performance bond deposit that earns interest because it is usually held in the form of short-term Treasury bills.’
      • ‘Anytime you can take resources that are earning less money and apply them to higher return projects, that's a good thing.’
      • ‘This example does not take account of the interest earned by the deposit itself, which will also be liable to tax.’
      • ‘We aim to raise £20,000 this year and start giving grants from the interest the money earns next year.’
      • ‘The accounts would be managed by non-government fund managers and deposits would earn interest.’
      • ‘The capital you invest that earns $25 psf is more productive, obviously, than that yielding $12 psf.’
      • ‘Instead of having a current account that earns no interest, and a mortgage account on which you pay interest, the First Active Current Account Mortgage combines the two.’
      • ‘This account did not attract interest, so the client monies did not earn interest while they remained in it.’
      • ‘Will their payments into the scheme be treated as nothing more than an ordinary deposit account earning minimal interest?’
  • 2Gain deservedly in return for one's behaviour or achievements:

    ‘through the years she has earned affection and esteem’
    • ‘The relatively small contingent deservedly earned a reputation for " punching well above their weight".’
    • ‘We feel we will stutter and stumble and earn the deserved scorn of our listeners.’
    • ‘I think she should stop counting her chickens before they hatch and stop using a name she by no means has earned.’
    • ‘Younger generations of Royals will need to earn our continuing respect and affection.’
    • ‘By the 1880s Irish workers had earned their reputation as a volatile and militant element within the labor force.’
    • ‘Has he really earned the right to lecture any country on responsible behaviour?’
    • ‘He earned another merit badge and turned it in to the chairman through his father.’
    • ‘Let's just say they all earned some recognition for a job they struggled to achieve, but finished in some style.’
    • ‘The number of women earning doctorates in engineering and science has risen significantly since 1966.’
    • ‘She also earned a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in industrial relations.’
    • ‘This is the biggest break to come along for The Hooks so far in their career, but they fully deserved and earned it.’
    • ‘Not until years later would he earn the respect his achievements merited.’
    • ‘Employees have justifiably earned a reputation for the contribution they make to the companies which employ them.’
    • ‘Well done John and congratulations and best wishes to all who so deservedly earned their award.’
    • ‘A prince earns esteem by undertaking great enterprises.’
    • ‘He deservedly earned the tremendous esteem and the great regard of all with whom he came in contact with.’
    • ‘He earned his doctorate magna cum laude with a dissertation on the politics of Hindu Revivalism.’
    • ‘Thus people in positions of privilege or power must earn our trust, show they deserve it.’
    • ‘The charity gains financially, the company earns kudos, and the benevolent consumer gets to feel good about his or her contribution.’
    • ‘From the ditch this running back/special teams kick return man earned his nickname.’
    deserve, merit, warrant, justify, be entitled to, be worthy of, be deserving of, have a right to
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  • earn one's corn

    • informal Put in a lot of effort to show that one deserves one's wages.

      • ‘He's a fully qualified referee after all, make him earn his corn.’
      • ‘Some bad habits dating back to youth can become ingrained, but many argued that it simply presented an opportunity for some highly-paid coaches to earn their corn.’
      • ‘The electorate will come to its own judgement as to whether or not we all earn our corn.’
      • ‘In truth the youngsters are providing some of the best racing seen at the venue in a long while and the eventual winner will have certainly earned their corn.’
      • ‘A former high-class handicapper on the Flat for Sir Mark Prescott, Chivalry earned his corn over hurdles last winter and is now set to tackle fences.’
      • ‘Moments later, Shearer makes the goalkeeper earn his corn again with a firm near-post header.’
      • ‘And it was at this stage that Stephen Havern earned his corn, the keeper making several fine blocks at feet.’
      • ‘Even with rest and recuperation there was no way she could race again this year so the decision was made to retire her - she's earned her corn.’
      • ‘Carlow kept up the pressure and Simon Rea was in on goal in almost the identical position only for goalie Raymond McKeown to earn his corn with a fine save.’
      • ‘Henderson earned his corn four minutes into the second half with a fine near-post block to deny McLeod a second.’
  • earn one's keep

    • 1Work in return for food and accommodation.

      • ‘It used to be that young people were expected to start earning their keep very early, we had to make laws to prohibit child labour.’
      • ‘The plantation owner and his family allowed him to live by himself on their property and earn his keep by performing house chores and milking cows.’
      • ‘‘My father is a big proponent of tradition and earning your keep,’ Wright says.’
      • ‘It's time for you to start earning your keep around here.’
      • ‘But to our ancestors, kids were an addition to the family workforce and had to earn their keep.’
      • ‘In other parts of Sweden, like Norrbotten, there were workhouses which poor children attended, earning their keep by doing most of the daily domestic work.’
      • ‘If they were, then they would have been earning their keep and fending for themselves, like everyone else is supposed to do.’
      • ‘‘You will start earning your keep tomorrow, Peter,’ said Orikichal smoothly, dismissing the faery servant with a wave of his hand.’
      • ‘He has very little business this time of year, so it makes sure the stableboys are earning their keep.’
      • ‘Mother has been complaining that since I don't contribute any money to the household I should be earning my keep through domestic work.’
      1. 1.1Be worth the time or money spent on one:
        ‘his media advisers were earning their keep’
        • ‘After a few years of hand waving, PowerPoint presentations and whiteboard discussions, investors began demanding that we start earning our keep by making a profit.’
        • ‘Sounds like the drug lobbyists are earning their keep.’
        • ‘She earns her keep though by competently catching all the bugs and critters that come into our Texas home.’
        • ‘Franklin has surveyed ranchers using llamas to protect sheep, and found that llamas seem to be earning their keep.’
        • ‘There are graceful conifers such as the Kashmir cypress and great pines earning their keep as windbreaks.’
        • ‘He earns his keep with a subtle musical touch that gradually becomes the overwhelming reason why you'll love this record.’
        • ‘His production hasn't matched his paycheck, but this might be the year he earns his keep.’
        • ‘That is how literary agents earn their keep and justify their existence.’
        • ‘I have long been of the opinion that there is always a group of stars who are paid a whole lot of money, but who earn their keep.’
        • ‘If we're going to welcome in all this new talent, it's time to sweep out some of the wrestlers who haven't been earning their keep.’

Phrasal Verbs

  • earn something out

    • (of an author, book, recording artist, etc.) generate sufficient income through sales to equal the amount paid in an advance or royalty:

      ‘four out of five of his books did not earn out their advance’
      • ‘For your first novel the sales figures they want are the ones that earn out your advance.’
      • ‘I can also assure you that most books never earn out their advance.’
      • ‘The distinguished lady novelist who boasted proudly that her books always earned out their advances.’
      • ‘So it may be the case that a writer gets one big advance, which is not earned out, and then - turn out the light.’
      • ‘Miss Smith, we gather, is a little worried that she has not earned out her advance.’
      • ‘It was one of these cult success books, but it never earned out its advance - everybody loved it but no one wanted to buy it.’


Old English earnian, of West Germanic origin, from a base shared by Old English esne ‘labourer’.