Definition of obligation in English:



  • 1An act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.

    [with infinitive] ‘I have an obligation to look after her’
    • ‘I've always seen my right to vote as an obligation - a duty of citizenship; the ‘right thing’ to do.’
    • ‘The student, of course, has an obligation to do everything possible to grasp, absorb, and integrate that information and then implement it.’
    • ‘To conform to these duties and obligations is to be rational; to fail to measure up to them is to be irrational.’
    • ‘‘We have a duty and an obligation if we're going to put on a show like this to deliver buyers to that arena,’ Wallace said.’
    • ‘By virtue of his royal birth, Prince Charles enjoys great privileges and, therefore, has a greater obligation to put duty before his own selfish whims.’
    • ‘Legally the gross obligations may remain, but the means by which they are discharged is modified.’
    • ‘They may not be of any importance strategically or politically, but we have an obligation to maintain our commitment to them.’
    • ‘Those who are left behind have an obligation, a duty, to retrain, move or do whatever it takes to find gainful employment.’
    • ‘The obligations and duties of insurers doing direct selling need to be spelt out explicitly.’
    • ‘She has become an artist only after completing her commitments and obligations.’
    • ‘A father legally has obligations to the child after its birth until its adulthood.’
    • ‘The duty surely includes an obligation to investigate suspicious proposals and to reject those animated by hostility to religion.’
    • ‘But Miss Mountfield told the judges that the Returning Officer's duty extended beyond an obligation to ‘deliver to the deliverer’.’
    • ‘It is time now to initiate an equally important quest for the acceptance of human duties or obligations.’
    • ‘He then requires man to work hard, fulfill his duties and meet his obligations.’
    • ‘Once the notice period expired, the Bank was entitled to proceed with the sale, of course with an obligation to account.’
    • ‘Rachel heard herself asking, never before considering that he would have had a previous obligation before vocalizing his commitment to her.’
    • ‘She has a duty and an obligation to report such misconduct as people stealing things.’
    • ‘The activities of political participation and public deliberation, on this view, should not be seen as a burdensome obligation or duty, but rather as intrinsically rewarding.’
    • ‘We must do our utmost to honor the obligations contained in these commitments.’
    duty, compulsion, indebtedness, duress, necessity, pressure, constraint
    duty, commitment, responsibility, moral imperative
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    1. 1.1[mass noun]The condition of being morally or legally bound to do something.
      ‘they are under no obligation to stick to the scheme’
      • ‘When one received a letter from the other, he was under no obligation whatsoever to read it, let alone answer it.’
      • ‘If an item is perfect, retailers are under no obligation to exchange it or give a refund - although they might as a goodwill gesture’
      • ‘If there is a fire, if there is a murder, they are under no obligation whatsoever to call the mayor of the city.’
      • ‘You are under no obligation to answer any questions whatsoever.’
      • ‘The Senate is surely under no obligation to confirm any particular nominee, but after the necessary time for inquiry, it should vote him up or vote him down.’
      • ‘Delivered direct to your door, free trial without obligation.’
      • ‘The company was under no obligation to the traditional Papuan owners of the land, who were excluded from the consultations.’
      • ‘He will shortly be organising a visit to Wold House Stables to see Evening Press being put through her paces on the gallops and if you would like to go along, without obligation, contact Paul.’
      • ‘They are under no obligation to teach the national curriculum.’
      • ‘The companies are under no obligation to prove that people actually have jobs.’
      • ‘Participants in the scheme will be offered the opportunity - but will be under no obligation - to make provision for Yorkshire Cancer Research in their will.’
      • ‘This is because real life is under no obligation to be convincing.’
      • ‘The fact is doctors are under no obligation to prolong life indefinitely, and are likewise required to take prospective suffering into account during treatment.’
      • ‘But industry was under no obligation to send its waste to him and pay him a decent price to treat it.’
      • ‘The legal answer to your question is that parents whose children pass the 11-plus are under no obligation to take up a place they have been offered in a comprehensive school.’
      • ‘As an employer, you are under no obligation to contribute to a pension scheme, although you may choose to do so as part of your employee benefit package.’
      • ‘The interest rates given to consumers generally are low, and the banks are under no obligation to point out higher rates, even those available within their own product ranges.’
      • ‘Private schools are under no obligation to offer their staff the pay rises but feel they must do if they are to retain the quality of staff they have enjoyed until now.’
      • ‘Part of that help involves bringing the pupil to the realisation that self-esteem is not something you will have inevitably and continuously and without obligation.’
      • ‘Anyone who would like to join or find out more about Rotaract can contact the president or just turn up without obligation to one of the meetings.’
      necessary condition, precondition, condition, essential, requirement, requisite, necessity, proviso, qualification, imperative, basic, rudiment, duty
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    2. 1.2A debt of gratitude for a service or favour.
      ‘she didn't want to be under an obligation to him’
      • ‘He is still working to understand his own newfound faith, yet he feels the obligation and the passion to share it with others.’
      • ‘And the very concept of gratitude or obligation disappears - even the obligation of common decency out of respect for other people.’
      • ‘Through the proximity of these two verses, the resident alien has been redefined as a neighbor, to whom is due the covenant obligation of love.’
      • ‘I didn't understand anything and I thought I had an obligation to my friend and they kept trying - my mom was fine with it.’
      • ‘It almost felt like an obligation to love her, like compensation for such a wonderful friendship.’
      • ‘I recognize research and scholarship as a public trust and accept professional service as a societal obligation.’
      • ‘Combined with this image is the feeling of gratitude and obligation resulting in a sense of guilt and loss.’
      contract, agreement, deed, covenant, bond, treaty, deal, pact, compact, understanding, transaction
      owing someone a favour, obliged, beholden, in someone's debt, indebted, obligated, owing someone a debt of gratitude, duty-bound, honour-bound, grateful, owing someone thanks
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    3. 1.3Law A binding agreement committing a person to a payment or other action.
      • ‘The adjudicator's decision, although not finally determinative, may give rise to an immediate payment obligation.’
      • ‘Thus, if the proper law of the payment obligation is country Y, its moratorium will be given effect.’
      • ‘Her equalization payment obligation to her husband can then be satisfied by reducing the amount of his support arrears.’
      • ‘In the absence of any promise, agreement or obligation to make the payment when he acquired, took possession of or used the money, he had given no consideration within the meaning of the Act.’
      • ‘By imposing a retroactive child support obligation, I have also accommodated Grace's payments.’


Middle English (in the sense ‘formal promise’): via Old French from Latin obligatio(n-), from the verb obligare (see oblige).