Definition of duty in 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’
    [mass noun] ‘a strong sense of duty’
    • ‘But doesn't the council have a moral duty, a duty to invest in the education and the future independence of these young people?’
    • ‘But a career Naval officer learns early to do his duty, to shoulder responsibilities no matter how grim they may be.’
    • ‘Many voters seem to have simply failed to do their duty.’
    • ‘The clothes are the first commercially available to know the difference between right and wrong, and to see through their moral duty and obligation.’
    • ‘They share a strong non-dogmatic Christian faith and from it flows a commitment to do their duty to their country and their people.’
    • ‘This raises the moral question: should caring be only a family duty, or a responsibility for the whole of society?’
    • ‘They have to do their duty and their responsibility.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘To the last minute of my holding the presidency, I will responsibly do my duty.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Unless one believes that there is an absolute obligation to obey every law, moral duty and legal duty will sometimes come into conflict.’
    • ‘But beyond this, the argument fudges a person's legal duties and his moral duties.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘If you are sick, you must do your duty to avoid infecting others and avoid all public places.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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's compulsory here and I think it's only right that I do my duty for the country, just like everyone else does.’
    • ‘I hope the government would not shirk its responsibility and discharge its moral and legal duty by taking stringent action against such venomous statement.’
    responsibility, obligation, commitment, obedience, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity, respect, deference, reverence, homage
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1[as 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.’
  • 2A task or action that someone is required to perform.

    ‘the queen's official duties’
    ‘your duties will include sweeping the switchboard’
    [mass noun] ‘Juliet reported for duty’
    • ‘Of course, there are hundreds of people on campus that perform many duties that do not include teaching.’
    • ‘Proficiency is a sum total of special skills, knowledge, and practical experience enabling a naval officer to perform particular functions and duties.’
    • ‘The appellant was a domestic employee in the hospital, whose duties included such tasks as taking water to the patients.’
    • ‘Boys and girls were trained for the separate duties and tasks required in the gendered world of their day.’
    • ‘Included among his duties is the task of providing students counsel and guidance on sexual health issues.’
    • ‘You will have sentry duty to perform in the evening and duties throughout the day.’
    • ‘Those remarks were considered by the administration as ‘a part of a longer term record of inability to perform her duties,’ an official said.’
    • ‘They also have acquired a ‘natural moral sense’ that inclines them to perform the social duties required for the species to flourish.’
    • ‘The Master Pilots had previously agreed to keep performing their duties, which include making contact with ship's captains and assessing safety measures.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Rather, the individual is required to perform certain duties which go to the heart of African society.’
    • ‘Candidates could better spend their time meeting with voters, and incumbents could better use their time to perform their official duties.’
    • ‘Many officers do not, and are not required to, perform all the duties of a police officer.’
    • ‘If for any reason the Police Commissioner cannot perform his duties, the most senior Deputy Commissioner is temporarily assigned the role.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘How do you know the staff who arrive at camp are qualified to perform the duties you are requiring of them?’
    • ‘As a result, he needed the car to perform his official duties.’
    • ‘Officers chosen to conduct the battalion's tactical planning need to have the proper training and experience in order to perform their required duties.’
    • ‘Staff are assigned primary duties to perform in case of a fire along with a back-up staff.’
    job, task, chore, assignment, commission, mission, function, charge, part, place, role, concern, requirement, responsibility, obligation
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1[as modifier](of a person) engaged in their regular work.
      ‘a duty nurse’
      • ‘After every child is born, parents should make it a point to pay the duty nurse and the ward boy a certain amount.’
      • ‘The commotion attracted the duty nurse, who asked Geeta to feed the baby instead of thrashing it.’
      • ‘Volunteers on the duty team provide advice to addicts and handle inquiries.’
      • ‘Dr Simon has sent round a memo suggesting that a different duty team of doctor, nurse, and receptionist could run the service each day.’
      • ‘Eventually, my mom hired a private duty nurse, whom my grandma promptly fired.’
      • ‘The station does not have a round the clock first aid post, a duty doctor or a duty nurse.’
      • ‘Each station has an alarm which will page duty staff if water reaches critical levels.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Calls from the police station will be handled by duty lawyers, who have volunteered to join the scheme, at their homes.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She is private duty nurse with New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Centre, in Manhattan.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But last week travellers set up their homes on the site while the duty guard left his post to take a break for lunch.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Everyone is welcome to come by and have a free blood pressure check with the duty nurse.’
      • ‘Jasmine watched nervously as she talked for several moments with the duty nurse.’
      • ‘On phoning Savernake Hospital my wife was informed by the duty nurse that we should contact Prime Care which would deal with the case.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘As hospital conditions gradually improved, more wealthy patients choose to go to hospitals for care instead of using a private duty nurse.’
    2. 2.2Military service.
      ‘combat duty in the army’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘As a young boy I was enthralled listening to my father's stories and of his experiences while on military duty in Thailand.’
      • ‘It is estimated they have over three million men of military age fit for duty.’
      • ‘Volunteer soldiers came to military duty no better armed, equipped, or trained than had their earlier militia counterparts.’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘All male citizens serve compulsory periods of military duty between the ages of twenty and fifty.’
      • ‘For the increasing number of Black women on active military duty, this is still part of the job description.’
      • ‘In order to avoid military duty, he had joined a circus and stayed on for two years.’
      • ‘The primary service was military duty as a mounted knight.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Both have seen active military duty, and both are survivors of the attack on the Pentagon.’
      • ‘For parents away on military duty, she suggests posting a map of the world with a push pin indicating the location of the parent.’
      • ‘A Retro-Guy will take care of his neighbor's yard when said neighbor is deployed overseas on military duty.’
      • ‘Although they were simply exempted from military duty in the past, they are now being punished for willingly violating the Conscription Law.’
      • ‘Why should ordinary Koreans pay taxes for those shirkers who educate their children abroad and avoid military service duties?’
      • ‘It was certainly permeable to see that he wasn't a pacifist; otherwise he'd have not signed for military duty.’
      • ‘On this Veterans Day, about 180,000 members of the National Guard and reserves are serving on active military duty.’
      • ‘The other recurring problem is the avoidance of military service by privileged youth during peacetime and combat duty during wars.’
      • ‘We're informed the number of resignations from the unit has also risen to unprecedented levels, as men choose family life over military duty.’
    3. 2.3Performance of prescribed church services by a priest or minister.
      ‘he was willing to take Sunday duties’
      • ‘The Brahmanas are rituals and prayers to guide the priests in their duties.’
      • ‘This would have meant that the minister's duties could be changed or added to after a set number of years.’
      • ‘For now, she continues with her ministerial duties, serving the church she sees as part of her family.’
      • ‘As much as $10,000 of the budgets could be used to help the church pay for pastoral duties during its pastor's absence.’
      • ‘It is not uncommon for a minister to drive 6-10,000 miles per year in carrying out the ministerial duties for a congregation.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The individual who wishes to resign his duties as a priest normally asks his diocese for a leave.’
  • 3A payment due and enforced by law or custom, in particular.

    • ‘If you buy from Britain, be sure to double-check the precise duty on your prospective purchase with the Vehicle Registration Office before you go for it.’
    • ‘Obvious examples of where this principle is being flouted are Vehicle Registration Tax and the duty on wine.’
    • ‘The excise duty on alcohol is unique among the trade taxes that she and her department oversees as it hits the consumer and the Irish wine industry.’
    • ‘The excise duty on cigarettes was raised by 38c, and the tax on pipe tobacco by 35c per 25 grams.’
    • ‘The excise duty on tobacco has risen by 23 percent.’
    • ‘Now think about the income tax that would have been collected from that incremental pension income stream, and the Vat and excise duties from the incremental income.’
    • ‘He said his company had benefited from the reduction of excise duty on carbonated soft drinks which had resulted in sales going up.’
    • ‘Through the existence of a subsidiary, the firm may manipulate the internal transfer price and thus reduce the payment of taxes and duties.’
    • ‘He said the alternative to the current excise duty on mineral water would be imposing tax on non-carbonated drinks which unlike water, were not a necessity.’
    • ‘Under the terms of the legislation, horse and greyhound racing are guaranteed income from excise duty on off-course betting.’
    • ‘Reduction in duties under Transfer of Residence reduced from 30 per cent to 15 per cent on 17 items.’
    • ‘It is also bound to highlight the differences in prices caused by the different rates of VAT and excise duty on different goods.’
    • ‘Most of it had provisions that made the duty assessable on the property referred to in the will, and things of that kind.’
    • ‘He said his country had succeeded in reducing poverty by means of reducing tax brackets to the lower income group as well as reducing transfer duties payable on acquisition of property.’
    • ‘Strip the Church of its tax exemption and levy huge duties against its property value.’
    • ‘Vat, excise duties, income tax and capital gains tax receipts have been hit already.’
    • ‘We have a budget lower than ten years ago, with the Government continuing to impose additional duties and not properly finance them.’
    • ‘Licence duties tend to have very small disincentive effects on car ownership due to their relatively low level (they are primarily put in place by governments to raise revenue).’
    • ‘If the object were to use the pricing mechanism to stop young people from imbibing or indulging in alcohol, why would one decrease the excise duty on high-alcohol spirits?’
    • ‘Remove duty on share issues and share transfers.’
    tax, levy, tariff, excise, toll, fee, imposition, impost, exaction, tithe, payment, rate
    View synonyms
    1. 3.1A payment levied on the import, export, manufacture, or sale of goods.
      ‘a 6 percent duty on imports’
      [mass noun] ‘goods subject to excise duty’
      • ‘Many governments put tariffs on the import of goods, whether stated as an import duty or a sales tax only on imported goods.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It might need adjustment, e.g. a duty on luxury imports to bring it to the present tax take.’
      • ‘Excise, import and export duties are collected by the directorate general of customs and excise.’
      • ‘In 1275 a customs duty on wool exports, at the rate of 6s. 8d. per sack, was introduced.’
      • ‘Taxes on foreign trade (both import duties and export taxes) are also relatively easily monitored and collected.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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 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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The importance of the duty on wool exports established in 1275 was that it became a permanent addition to the Crown's peacetime revenue.’
      • ‘The customs duty on imports was at first designed only to raise revenue.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Third, export duties on most manufactures were abolished.’
      • ‘The cascading impact of import duties, excise and sales tax should be drastically reduced to make computer hardware more affordable.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘There have been regular cuts in the excise duty on finished goods and in the import duty on imported raw materials, mainly titanium dioxide.’
      tax, levy, tariff, toll, tithe
      View synonyms
  • 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’
      • ‘It's an old joke that could do duty as an apt description of Irish-Scottish relations.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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!’
      • ‘Okay, Saturn is usually black and I suppose soldering wire might do duty as lead thread.’
      • ‘Anecdote dominates many chapters, with unreflective reportage frequently doing duty for examination.’
      • ‘In China there is a single word which does duty for all these animals.’
      • ‘Swear words are interwoven throughout military slang, doing duty for most parts of speech.’
      • ‘Today representational accounts of the mind run unencumbered by the need also to do duty as theories of knowledge.’
      • ‘The main tradition of our historical fiction has been rather homely and dour, with puritanism doing duty as the mother of necessity.’
      • ‘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.’
  • on (or off) duty

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

      ‘the doorman had gone off duty and the lobby was unattended’
      • ‘This was also the view of one of the policemen on duty at the school, as well as the security guard on duty.’
      • ‘The soldier involved was arrested last month, accused of drug-use on duty and suspended.’
      • ‘Most volunteers normally spend a couple of mornings, afternoons or evenings on duty each week.’
      • ‘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 few regular carers on duty tried to talk to the quartet, hoping to mollify them.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘A chief inspector on duty that night has already been transferred to other duties.’
      • ‘Soldiers would be banned from engaging in any political activities both on and off duty to ensure their political neutrality.’
      working, at work, busy, occupied, engaged
      on call, on standby
      on the job, tied up
      not working, at leisure, on holiday, on leave, off, off work, free
      View synonyms


Late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French duete, from Old French deu (see due).