Definition of owe in US English:



[with object]
  • 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 ‘I owe you 25 cents’
    • ‘Also, students owing the university money will not receive any form of results unless the debt is paid in full.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘These men do low wage and often seasonal work, and owe large sums of money which most could never hope to pay off.’
    • ‘My request is simple - I want to know what I am supposed to have received that I owe money for.’
    • ‘So even if a worker owes no income tax, the EITC effectively defrays her payroll taxes.’
    • ‘If you owe money, you should have received a request for payment telling you the required amount.’
    • ‘Although the man did owe small sums of money, there is no evidence to suggest that he was heavily in debt.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Satta needs the next prediction to be correct because he owes a large sum of money to some shady characters.’
    • ‘But the company went bankrupt soon after, and several local businessmen were left owing large sums of money.’
    • ‘‘We have now repaid all our loans, and we owe no money at all to anyone,’ says Robin.’
    • ‘She does not deny owing the money, it is long overdue and it is up to her how she comes up it.’
    • ‘A householder owing money will receive a written reminder and, if they ignore the letter, can expect a court summons.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Territory Housing doesn't want to disclose how much money is currently owed by tenants.’
    • ‘There's no need to hold onto your tax return just because you owe the government money.’
    • ‘A taxpayer owing federal taxes should first took at ways to pay the liability in full.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The sale proceeds are often used to repay existing debts owed by the consumer.’
    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 (someone)
      ‘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’
      • ‘In India, however, she was an empress, a supreme sovereign to whom other sovereigns owed homage.’
      • ‘For many people, as I said, the respect we owe nature is respect for God conceived as the divine creator.’
      • ‘British cycling has rarely had it so good, and for that a debt of gratitude is owed to Manchester and the National Cycling Centre.’
      • ‘The respondent owed the appellant only the ordinary general duty of care owed by an occupier to a lawful entrant.’
      • ‘Those defendants did owe to the claimant a duty of care.’
      • ‘It is to each and every one of them, the known and the unknown, that we owe our gratitude.’
      • ‘He did not owe any allegiance to Lyra; he could do as he wished.’
      • ‘It might be better described as being about obligations of gratitude, or about the deference owed by a creature to its creator, or both.’
      • ‘We owe Debra an immeasurable debt of gratitude for blowing the whistle.’
      • ‘We owe deep gratitude to those nearby who did what they could without adequate resources.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Respect is owed to Fast Forward for being a publication with a degree of journalistic integrity.’
      • ‘For living out so admirably its values of democratic inclusion as well as of excellence, the college owes him an enormous debt of gratitude.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The world certainly owes the Prime Minister a great debt of gratitude for the immense effort he put into this.’
      • ‘Over coffee the Queen asked him ‘To what do we owe the unexpected honour of your visit?’’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘All members of the society were responsible for their inferiors and owed deference to their betters.’
      • ‘We owe him some respect for that and we need to help him make that affirmative case for change.’
      • ‘I believe society generally owes them a debt of gratitude.’
    3. 1.3 Be indebted to someone or something for (something)
      ‘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’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘You owe it to yourself and everyone who loves you.’
      • ‘And Alberta owes it to itself, to its future citizens, and to like-minded people in the rest of the country to save itself.’
      • ‘And we darn sure pay the price. We owe it to ourselves and everything we hold dear to see past the propaganda.’
      • ‘Anyone unfamiliar with those horrific events owes it to himself or herself to find out more.’
      • ‘You owe it to yourself and to thousands of other people whose lives could be saved.’
      • ‘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 to future generations to make the best of it.’
      • ‘We owe it to ourselves and future generations to stick with that proven path to success.’
      • ‘Any commentator owes it to themselves to at the very least to read this book.’
  • owe someone one

    • informal Feel indebted to someone for a favor done.

      ‘thanks, I owe you one for this’
      • ‘About to argue back, Caelyn stopped herself and figured that she owed him one.’
      • ‘I treated Numair well at first only because he saved my life and I owed him one; he earned my respect.’
      • ‘‘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 owed you one for that incident last year anyway.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Party leaders will owe her one when she decides to make her political comeback.’
      • ‘‘We owe them one,’ said the 19-year-old striker.’
      • ‘Thanks, I owe you one, here let me buy you a drink’
      • ‘I know I owe them one for getting me inside the lovely silver encampment.’
  • owes someone 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’
      • ‘We contribute very little to our society and we believe our society owes us a living.’
      • ‘And never start to believe that the world owes you a living.’
      • ‘Too many people believe the world owes them a living.’
      • ‘There is a notion that the world owes us a living by virtue of our creativity.’
      • ‘We seem to be moving away from self-reliance to an attitude that the world owes us 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?’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The Protestant Work Ethic seems to have disappeared forever - so many people seem to think that the world owes them a living.’
      • ‘Don't go around saying the world owes you 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.