Definition of owe in English:

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Pronunciation: /ō/


[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.
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’.



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.


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.

Words that rhyme with owe

aglow, ago, alow, although, apropos, art nouveau, Bamako, Bardot, beau, Beaujolais Nouveau, below, bestow, blow, bo, Boileau, bons mots, Bordeaux, Bow, bravo, bro, cachepot, cheerio, Coe, crow, Defoe, de trop, doe, doh, dos-à-dos, do-si-do, dough, dzo, Flo, floe, flow, foe, foreknow, foreshow, forgo, Foucault, froe, glow, go, good-oh, go-slow, grow, gung-ho, Heathrow, heave-ho, heigh-ho, hello, ho, hoe, ho-ho, jo, Joe, kayo, know, lo, low, maillot, malapropos, Marceau, mho, Miró, mo, Mohs, Monroe, mot, mow, Munro, no, Noh, no-show, oh, oho, outgo, outgrow, Perrault, pho, po, Poe, pro, quid pro quo, reshow, righto, roe, Rouault, row, Rowe, sew, shew, show, sloe, slow, snow, so, soh, sow, status quo, stow, Stowe, strow, tally-ho, though, throw, tic-tac-toe, to-and-fro, toe, touch-and-go, tow, trow, undergo, undersow, voe, whacko, whoa, wo, woe, Xuzhou, yo, yo-ho-ho, Zhengzhou, Zhou

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: owe

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