Definition of owe in English:

owe

Syllabification: owe

verb

[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
    More example sentences
    • Although the man did owe small sums of money, there is no evidence to suggest that he was heavily in debt.
    • These men do low wage and often seasonal work, and owe large sums of money which most could never hope to pay off.
    • A householder owing money will receive a written reminder and, if they ignore the letter, can expect a court summons.
    Synonyms
    be in debt to, be indebted to, be in arrears to, be under an obligation to
  • 1.1Owe something, especially money, to (someone): I owe you for the taxi
    More example sentences
    • 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.
  • 1.2Be 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
    More example sentences
    • British cycling has rarely had it so good, and for that a debt of gratitude is owed to Manchester and the National Cycling Centre.
    • Respect is owed to Fast Forward for being a publication with a degree of journalistic integrity.
    • 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.
  • 1.3 (owe something to) Have something because of (someone or something): he owed his success not to chance but to insight
    More example sentences
    • A whole swathe of public signage also owes its existence to this giant transfer lettering.
    • Joss Cafe owes its success to good food, good prices.
    • Much of their success is owed to the band's unique fashion sense coupled with memorable tunes.
  • 1.4Be indebted to someone or something for (something): I owe my life to you
    More example sentences
    • Judge owes his life to Tuskegee airmen.
    • When asked ‘What do you owe your parents?’ his reply was ‘A long talking-to’.

Phrases

owe it to oneself

Need to do something to protect one’s own interests: you owe it to yourself to take care of your body
More example sentences
  • The ‘Personal Information Economy’ is fast becoming a reality, and we owe it to ourselves to protect it as best we can.
  • Any commentator owes it to themselves to at the very least to read this book.
  • And Alberta owes it to itself, to its future citizens, and to like-minded people in the rest of the country to save itself.

owe someone one

informal Feel indebted to someone for a favor done: thanks, I owe you one for this
More example sentences
  • Thanks, I owe you one, here let me buy you a drink
  • ‘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.
  • Maybe he thought he owed us one from the previous year.

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
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • Don't go around saying the world owes you a living.

Origin

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 ought1.

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