Definition of owe in English:



  • 1Have an obligation to pay or repay (something, especially money) in return for something received.

    ‘they have denied they owe money to the company’
    with two objects ‘you owe me £19.50 for the electricity bill’
    • ‘If you owe money, you should have received a request for payment telling you the required amount.’
    • ‘Also, students owing the university money will not receive any form of results unless the debt is paid in full.’
    • ‘Without a written promissory note, your brother could deny he owes the money and instead claim your father told him he could make the charges.’
    • ‘But the company went bankrupt soon after, and several local businessmen were left owing large sums of money.’
    • ‘He denied owing the council tax and said the case had gone to appeal in the High Court in London, meaning there was no reason for him to attend Chippenham Magistrates' Court.’
    • ‘Satta needs the next prediction to be correct because he owes a large sum of money to some shady characters.’
    • ‘A taxpayer owing federal taxes should first took at ways to pay the liability in full.’
    • ‘Territory Housing doesn't want to disclose how much money is currently owed by tenants.’
    • ‘My request is simple - I want to know what I am supposed to have received that I owe money for.’
    • ‘‘We have now repaid all our loans, and we owe no money at all to anyone,’ says Robin.’
    • ‘Although the man did owe small sums of money, there is no evidence to suggest that he was heavily in debt.’
    • ‘She does not deny owing the money, it is long overdue and it is up to her how she comes up it.’
    • ‘On June 12, he sent his victim a letter asking her to pop round the following day so that he could repay some money he owed her.’
    • ‘If you collected unemployment benefits last year, you'll probably owe taxes on the money.’
    • ‘There was no tax due on the money, but I may owe tax on the interest accrued.’
    • ‘The sale proceeds are often used to repay existing debts owed by the consumer.’
    • ‘A householder owing money will receive a written reminder and, if they ignore the letter, can expect a court summons.’
    • ‘There's no need to hold onto your tax return just because you owe the government money.’
    • ‘So even if a worker owes no income tax, the EITC effectively defrays her payroll taxes.’
    • ‘These men do low wage and often seasonal work, and owe large sums of money which most could never hope to pay off.’
    be in debt, be in debt to, be indebted, be indebted to, be in arrears, be in arrears to, be under an obligation, be under an obligation to, be obligated, be obligated to, be beholden to
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Owe something, especially money, to.
      ‘I owe you for the taxi’
      • ‘Brigget was nowhere to be found, so I helped myself to a mouth-wateringly good cherry tomato. Man, was it good! Brigget, I owe you for a tomato. Okay, okay… I owe you for two tomatoes!’
      • ‘Subcontractors say Williams owes them for Harlem work.’
    2. 1.2 Be under a moral obligation to give someone (gratitude, respect, etc.)
      ‘I owe it to him to explain what's happened’
      with two objects ‘I owe you an apology’
      • ‘He did not owe any allegiance to Lyra; he could do as he wished.’
      • ‘British cycling has rarely had it so good, and for that a debt of gratitude is owed to Manchester and the National Cycling Centre.’
      • ‘Those defendants did owe to the claimant a duty of care.’
      • ‘Respect is owed to Fast Forward for being a publication with a degree of journalistic integrity.’
      • ‘In India, however, she was an empress, a supreme sovereign to whom other sovereigns owed homage.’
      • ‘We owe Debra an immeasurable debt of gratitude for blowing the whistle.’
      • ‘I believe society generally owes them a debt of gratitude.’
      • ‘We owe him some respect for that and we need to help him make that affirmative case for change.’
      • ‘The world certainly owes the Prime Minister a great debt of gratitude for the immense effort he put into this.’
      • ‘The impersonality of market forces hides their continued presence and enables the artist to think of himself as a self-reliant, independent entrepreneur owing deference to no man.’
      • ‘Thank you very kindly; if you care to drop me a line telling me who you are, it would be nice to know to whom I owe my gratitude.’
      • ‘We owe deep gratitude to those nearby who did what they could without adequate resources.’
      • ‘Over coffee the Queen asked him ‘To what do we owe the unexpected honour of your visit?’’
      • ‘It might be better described as being about obligations of gratitude, or about the deference owed by a creature to its creator, or both.’
      • ‘For many people, as I said, the respect we owe nature is respect for God conceived as the divine creator.’
      • ‘All members of the society were responsible for their inferiors and owed deference to their betters.’
      • ‘The respondent owed the appellant only the ordinary general duty of care owed by an occupier to a lawful entrant.’
      • ‘It is to each and every one of them, the known and the unknown, that we owe our gratitude.’
      • ‘So as much as anything, I think I owe him the respect of leaving it alone if he doesn't want to talk about it.’
      • ‘For living out so admirably its values of democratic inclusion as well as of excellence, the college owes him an enormous debt of gratitude.’
    3. 1.3owe something to Have something because of.
      ‘champagne houses owe their success to brand image’
      ‘I owe my life to you’
      • ‘When asked ‘What do you owe your parents?’ his reply was ‘A long talking-to’.’
      • ‘Judge owes his life to Tuskegee airmen.’


  • owe it to oneself (to do something)

    • Need to do something to protect one's own interests.

      ‘you owe it to yourself to take care of your body’
      • ‘Any commentator owes it to themselves to at the very least to read this book.’
      • ‘The ‘Personal Information Economy’ is fast becoming a reality, and we owe it to ourselves to protect it as best we can.’
      • ‘We owe it to ourselves and future generations to stick with that proven path to success.’
      • ‘We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to make the best of it.’
      • ‘You owe it to yourself and to thousands of other people whose lives could be saved.’
      • ‘And we darn sure pay the price. We owe it to ourselves and everything we hold dear to see past the propaganda.’
      • ‘You owe it to yourself and everyone who loves you.’
      • ‘Anyone unfamiliar with those horrific events owes it to himself or herself to find out more.’
      • ‘And Alberta owes it to itself, to its future citizens, and to like-minded people in the rest of the country to save itself.’
      • ‘However, hopeless though our problems may seem, we owe it to ourselves to at least attempt to create the kind of history that we want to see.’
  • owe someone one

    • informal Feel indebted to someone.

      ‘thanks, I owe you one for this’
      • ‘‘He owes me one,’ said the Scot, who had to pick up Beckford at dawn at the airport after the Jamaican had missed his flight the night before.’
      • ‘I know I owe them one for getting me inside the lovely silver encampment.’
      • ‘I treated Numair well at first only because he saved my life and I owed him one; he earned my respect.’
      • ‘I owed you one for that incident last year anyway.’
      • ‘Thanks, I owe you one, here let me buy you a drink’
      • ‘‘We owe them one,’ said the 19-year-old striker.’
      • ‘About to argue back, Caelyn stopped herself and figured that she owed him one.’
      • ‘Party leaders will owe her one when she decides to make her political comeback.’
      • ‘Maybe he thought he owed us one from the previous year.’
      • ‘I owed him one for being at the right place at the right time.’
  • owe one a living

    • Used to express disapproval of someone who expects to receive financial support or other benefits without doing any work.

      ‘they think the world owes them a living’
      • ‘Too many people believe the world owes them a living.’
      • ‘But this may serve as a wake-up call to this generation of complacent male teenage slackers that think the world owes them a living - smell the coffee, lads, you've got to work for a living nowadays.’
      • ‘We seem to be moving away from self-reliance to an attitude that the world owes us a living.’
      • ‘Don't go around saying the world owes you a living.’
      • ‘The Protestant Work Ethic seems to have disappeared forever - so many people seem to think that the world owes them a living.’
      • ‘There is a notion that the world owes us a living by virtue of our creativity.’
      • ‘And never start to believe that the world owes you a living.’
      • ‘At some point, this talk about exporting ‘your job’ just amounts to a nicer or more subtle way of saying that the world owes you a living.’
      • ‘What else do you expect from a guy who thinks the world owes him a living?’
      • ‘We contribute very little to our society and we believe our society owes us a living.’


Old English āgan ‘own, have it as an obligation’, of Germanic origin; from an Indo-European root shared by Sanskrit īs ‘possess, own’. Compare with ought.