Definition of duty in US English:



  • 1A moral or legal obligation; a responsibility.

    ‘it's my duty to uphold the law’
    ‘she was determined to do her duty as a citizen’
    ‘a strong sense of duty’
    • ‘If you are sick, you must do your duty to avoid infecting others and avoid all public places.’
    • ‘This raises the moral question: should caring be only a family duty, or a responsibility for the whole of society?’
    • ‘But beyond this, the argument fudges a person's legal duties and his moral duties.’
    • ‘I sat in a jury room with many others and listened to a judge explain that it was our responsibility as citizens to do our duty and participate in the system.’
    • ‘They share a strong non-dogmatic Christian faith and from it flows a commitment to do their duty to their country and their people.’
    • ‘The action group said the government has a moral duty to see its commitments honoured and its grants, believed to be up to $10 million, put to their intended use.’
    • ‘Because of this, each and every one of us have a civic duty and a moral responsibility to ensure that we do everything possible to eliminate the current problem.’
    • ‘It's compulsory here and I think it's only right that I do my duty for the country, just like everyone else does.’
    • ‘To the last minute of my holding the presidency, I will responsibly do my duty.’
    • ‘Unless one believes that there is an absolute obligation to obey every law, moral duty and legal duty will sometimes come into conflict.’
    • ‘But doesn't the council have a moral duty, a duty to invest in the education and the future independence of these young people?’
    • ‘The clothes are the first commercially available to know the difference between right and wrong, and to see through their moral duty and obligation.’
    • ‘When all is said and done, what we are up against is every man's reluctance to do his duty, to abide by the dictates of society.’
    • ‘Many voters seem to have simply failed to do their duty.’
    • ‘It's to do my duty as a physician, and they often have disagreeable outcomes when you do your duty, and this is one very disagreeable outcome.’
    • ‘But a career Naval officer learns early to do his duty, to shoulder responsibilities no matter how grim they may be.’
    • ‘I hope the government would not shirk its responsibility and discharge its moral and legal duty by taking stringent action against such venomous statement.’
    • ‘They have to do their duty and their responsibility.’
    • ‘Rather than admit their error and commit to their legal and moral duties under the First Amendment, administrators chose to ban all window displays.’
    • ‘It has been my anxious wish to do my duty to my country, though politics never were congenial to me and while my dear Husband lived I left as much as I could to him.’
    responsibility, obligation, commitment, obedience, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity, respect, deference, reverence, homage
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    1. 1.1as modifier (of a visit or other undertaking) done from a sense of moral obligation rather than for pleasure.
      ‘a fifteen-minute duty visit’
      • ‘Let the occasional duty visits be brief and bearable.’
  • 2often dutiesA task or action that someone is required to perform.

    ‘the queen's official duties’
    ‘your duties will include sweeping the switchboard’
    ‘Juliet reported for duty’
    • ‘Officers chosen to conduct the battalion's tactical planning need to have the proper training and experience in order to perform their required duties.’
    • ‘Proficiency is a sum total of special skills, knowledge, and practical experience enabling a naval officer to perform particular functions and duties.’
    • ‘After the session, most people feel relaxed and mellow but in complete control of all of their faculties and able to perform any task or duty such as driving or working.’
    • ‘He also encouraged the government officials to perform their duties well and use the law with justice, so that they may regain the good reputation for all Thai governmental agencies.’
    • ‘Included among his duties is the task of providing students counsel and guidance on sexual health issues.’
    • ‘Rather, the individual is required to perform certain duties which go to the heart of African society.’
    • ‘Boys and girls were trained for the separate duties and tasks required in the gendered world of their day.’
    • ‘How do you know the staff who arrive at camp are qualified to perform the duties you are requiring of them?’
    • ‘Of course, there are hundreds of people on campus that perform many duties that do not include teaching.’
    • ‘If for any reason the Police Commissioner cannot perform his duties, the most senior Deputy Commissioner is temporarily assigned the role.’
    • ‘Many officers do not, and are not required to, perform all the duties of a police officer.’
    • ‘You will have sentry duty to perform in the evening and duties throughout the day.’
    • ‘Staff are assigned primary duties to perform in case of a fire along with a back-up staff.’
    • ‘The appellant was a domestic employee in the hospital, whose duties included such tasks as taking water to the patients.’
    • ‘We have to now examine very closely our recruitment process and also how we check on a day-to-day basis on the way our officers perform their duties.’
    • ‘The Master Pilots had previously agreed to keep performing their duties, which include making contact with ship's captains and assessing safety measures.’
    • ‘As a result, he needed the car to perform his official duties.’
    • ‘Those remarks were considered by the administration as ‘a part of a longer term record of inability to perform her duties,’ an official said.’
    • ‘Candidates could better spend their time meeting with voters, and incumbents could better use their time to perform their official duties.’
    • ‘They also have acquired a ‘natural moral sense’ that inclines them to perform the social duties required for the species to flourish.’
    job, task, chore, assignment, commission, mission, function, charge, part, place, role, concern, requirement, responsibility, obligation
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    1. 2.1 Military service.
      ‘combat duty in the army’
      • ‘Why should ordinary Koreans pay taxes for those shirkers who educate their children abroad and avoid military service duties?’
      • ‘Although they were simply exempted from military duty in the past, they are now being punished for willingly violating the Conscription Law.’
      • ‘In order to avoid military duty, he had joined a circus and stayed on for two years.’
      • ‘Volunteer soldiers came to military duty no better armed, equipped, or trained than had their earlier militia counterparts.’
      • ‘The other recurring problem is the avoidance of military service by privileged youth during peacetime and combat duty during wars.’
      • ‘Both have seen active military duty, and both are survivors of the attack on the Pentagon.’
      • ‘On this Veterans Day, about 180,000 members of the National Guard and reserves are serving on active military duty.’
      • ‘Speaking of old friends, I will be at the Wet Spot tonight to give a big hug to a great local guy, S, who's just returned from military duty overseas.’
      • ‘For the increasing number of Black women on active military duty, this is still part of the job description.’
      • ‘We're informed the number of resignations from the unit has also risen to unprecedented levels, as men choose family life over military duty.’
      • ‘My wife and I know what it is like to lose a much-loved son needlessly on military duty in a distant country and we wouldn't wish that dreadful heartache and pain on anyone.’
      • ‘The primary service was military duty as a mounted knight.’
      • ‘A Retro-Guy will take care of his neighbor's yard when said neighbor is deployed overseas on military duty.’
      • ‘For parents away on military duty, she suggests posting a map of the world with a push pin indicating the location of the parent.’
      • ‘It was certainly permeable to see that he wasn't a pacifist; otherwise he'd have not signed for military duty.’
      • ‘Our heroic past should help to educate the personnel of today's army and navy in a spirit of patriotism and loyalty to one's military duty.’
      • ‘I have just one thing to ask: do you support the immediate dismissal from military duty of all over 35 fathers who request such a dismissal?’
      • ‘It is estimated they have over three million men of military age fit for duty.’
      • ‘All male citizens serve compulsory periods of military duty between the ages of twenty and fifty.’
      • ‘As a young boy I was enthralled listening to my father's stories and of his experiences while on military duty in Thailand.’
    2. 2.2as modifier (of a person) engaged in their regular work.
      ‘a duty nurse’
      • ‘The hospital is paying for the private duty nurse, and a bed in the ICU costs considerably more than one on a regular hospital floor.’
      • ‘Jasmine watched nervously as she talked for several moments with the duty nurse.’
      • ‘Each station has an alarm which will page duty staff if water reaches critical levels.’
      • ‘The station does not have a round the clock first aid post, a duty doctor or a duty nurse.’
      • ‘She is private duty nurse with New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Centre, in Manhattan.’
      • ‘Dr Simon has sent round a memo suggesting that a different duty team of doctor, nurse, and receptionist could run the service each day.’
      • ‘On both nights the duty nurse was based on the unit, but on both nights their duties took them to the residential units and those for elderly and mentally ill patients for considerable periods.’
      • ‘As hospital conditions gradually improved, more wealthy patients choose to go to hospitals for care instead of using a private duty nurse.’
      • ‘Calls from the police station will be handled by duty lawyers, who have volunteered to join the scheme, at their homes.’
      • ‘The commotion attracted the duty nurse, who asked Geeta to feed the baby instead of thrashing it.’
      • ‘On phoning Savernake Hospital my wife was informed by the duty nurse that we should contact Prime Care which would deal with the case.’
      • ‘You are the person on the ground that has to help people who may be in real difficulties, but the emergency duty staff are not alone.’
      • ‘Eventually, my mom hired a private duty nurse, whom my grandma promptly fired.’
      • ‘But last week travellers set up their homes on the site while the duty guard left his post to take a break for lunch.’
      • ‘Patients will have to call the surgery after 8.30 am and leave a contact number as well as a time when the duty nurse can call to discuss the problem.’
      • ‘Nevertheless, although your style of crime writing is different from the work that you would do as a duty lawyer, there is a common thread, and that is crime.’
      • ‘As the telephonist has classified the call as urgent another duty doctor telephones the patient back within three minutes, in order to determine the seriousness of the situation.’
      • ‘After every child is born, parents should make it a point to pay the duty nurse and the ward boy a certain amount.’
      • ‘Everyone is welcome to come by and have a free blood pressure check with the duty nurse.’
      • ‘Volunteers on the duty team provide advice to addicts and handle inquiries.’
    3. 2.3also duties Performance of prescribed church services by a priest or minister.
      ‘he was willing to take Sunday duties’
      • ‘The individual who wishes to resign his duties as a priest normally asks his diocese for a leave.’
      • ‘This would have meant that the minister's duties could be changed or added to after a set number of years.’
      • ‘For example, in a management letter, an auditor told a church to do a better job in segregating of duties when it came to handling offerings from the Sunday services.’
      • ‘For now, she continues with her ministerial duties, serving the church she sees as part of her family.’
      • ‘The Brahmanas are rituals and prayers to guide the priests in their duties.’
      • ‘It is not uncommon for a minister to drive 6-10,000 miles per year in carrying out the ministerial duties for a congregation.’
      • ‘As much as $10,000 of the budgets could be used to help the church pay for pastoral duties during its pastor's absence.’
  • 3A payment levied on the import, export, manufacture, or sale of goods.

    ‘a 6 percent duty on imports’
    ‘goods subject to excise duty’
    • ‘Excise, import and export duties are collected by the directorate general of customs and excise.’
    • ‘It might need adjustment, e.g. a duty on luxury imports to bring it to the present tax take.’
    • ‘The cascading impact of import duties, excise and sales tax should be drastically reduced to make computer hardware more affordable.’
    • ‘Taxes on foreign trade (both import duties and export taxes) are also relatively easily monitored and collected.’
    • ‘The importance of the duty on wool exports established in 1275 was that it became a permanent addition to the Crown's peacetime revenue.’
    • ‘There have been regular cuts in the excise duty on finished goods and in the import duty on imported raw materials, mainly titanium dioxide.’
    • ‘One aspect is that the price will self-level after the rich, dumb, early adopters grab their wedge and sales fall; the profit margin will drop before the import duties and sales tax do.’
    • ‘The only tax laws were enacted in 1683; these placed a small duty on liquor and cider, a general duty on goods, and an export duty on bides and furs.’
    • ‘In 1275 a customs duty on wool exports, at the rate of 6s. 8d. per sack, was introduced.’
    • ‘Getting the manufacturing association to back a duty on low-priced Chinese imports was a victory for small manufacturers.’
    • ‘Although they were happy to see the end of duties on imported raw materials and on their exports of manufactures, they were anxious to maintain import duties on British manufactures.’
    • ‘Many governments put tariffs on the import of goods, whether stated as an import duty or a sales tax only on imported goods.’
    • ‘These include priority treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services and significant reductions in national and local income taxes, land fees, and import and export duties.’
    • ‘In an industrial European country, for example Germany, an import duty on wheat raises the domestic price to the level of the world market price plus the import duty.’
    • ‘In fact, all of those entities would undoubtedly make money off the transactions in the long term, if not quite as much as some of them might have with the import and export duties in place.’
    • ‘Third, export duties on most manufactures were abolished.’
    • ‘One thing Andrew did find out is that import duties on cars manufactured in South Africa for the export market would be waived if re-imported.’
    • ‘Put another way, costs that used to be absorbed by the private sector in the form of export and import duties and tariffs have been transferred onto taxpayers in the form of security costs.’
    • ‘The customs duty on imports was at first designed only to raise revenue.’
    • ‘The decrease is partly blamed on import duties imposed on Namibian exporters at the border posts and the port of Namibe that is slowly picking up in business.’
    tax, levy, tariff, toll, tithe
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  • 4technical The measure of an engine's effectiveness in units of work done per unit of fuel.


  • do duty as (or for)

    • Serve or act as a substitute for something else.

      ‘her mug was doing duty as a wine glass’
      • ‘Anecdote dominates many chapters, with unreflective reportage frequently doing duty for examination.’
      • ‘My new paint tubes are arranged in a neat arc, brushes and palette knife by their side, and an upturned white enamel plate ready to do duty as a palette until I can find an old one or buy new.’
      • ‘Swear words are interwoven throughout military slang, doing duty for most parts of speech.’
      • ‘Okay, Saturn is usually black and I suppose soldering wire might do duty as lead thread.’
      • ‘My first and second pacers weighed a hefty 200 gm (now doing duty as a paperweight - how the mighty are fallen!) and I had to clutch my chest with my hand while running!’
      • ‘It's an old joke that could do duty as an apt description of Irish-Scottish relations.’
      • ‘Wreaths made entirely of wired on pine cones wrapped with gingham ribbon look very good at this time of year and with a change of ribbon to something more glamorous will do duty for Christmas too.’
      • ‘Today representational accounts of the mind run unencumbered by the need also to do duty as theories of knowledge.’
      • ‘In China there is a single word which does duty for all these animals.’
      • ‘The main tradition of our historical fiction has been rather homely and dour, with puritanism doing duty as the mother of necessity.’
      stand in for, fill in for, act as stand-in for, deputize for, act as deputy, substitute for, act as substitute for, take the place of, take over from, be a substitute for, cover for, replace, relieve, act in place of, do duty for, do a locum for, be a locum for, sit in for, understudy
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  • on (or off) duty

    • Engaged (or not engaged) in one's regular work.

      ‘the doorman had gone off duty and the lobby was unattended’
      • ‘Most volunteers normally spend a couple of mornings, afternoons or evenings on duty each week.’
      • ‘The few regular carers on duty tried to talk to the quartet, hoping to mollify them.’
      • ‘A chief inspector on duty that night has already been transferred to other duties.’
      • ‘Two town guides will be on duty in the town to make visitors feel really welcome and to point out places of interest to visit.’
      • ‘Are the core values inherent in you in all that you do, both on duty and off duty?’
      • ‘The local mountain rescue team and the Red Cross are on duty on the route.’
      • ‘The day my mother died the regular nurse was off duty, and a replacement came instead.’
      • ‘The soldier involved was arrested last month, accused of drug-use on duty and suspended.’
      • ‘Soldiers would be banned from engaging in any political activities both on and off duty to ensure their political neutrality.’
      • ‘This was also the view of one of the policemen on duty at the school, as well as the security guard on duty.’
      not working, at leisure, on holiday, on leave, off, off work, free
      working, at work, busy, occupied, engaged
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Late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French duete, from Old French deu (see due).