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From Middle English dette, dett, borrowed from Old French dete (French dette), from Medieval Latin dēbita, from Latin dēbitum (what is owed, a debt, a duty), neuter of dēbitus, perfect passive participle of dēbeō (I owe), contraction of *dehibeō (I have from), from de (from) + habeō (I have). Doublet of debit.

The unpronounced "b" in the modern English spelling is a Latinisation from the Latin etymon dēbitum.



debt (countable and uncountable, plural debts)

  1. An action, state of mind, or object one has an obligation to perform for another, adopt toward another, or give to another.
    • 1589, William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, act 1, scene 3:
      Revenge the jeering and disdain'd contempt / Of this proud king, who studies day and night / To answer all the debt he owes to you / Even with the bloody payment of your deaths.
    • 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne, chapter 14, in The Scarlet Letter:
      This long debt of confidence, due from me to him, whose bane and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid.
  2. The state or condition of owing something to another.
    I am in your debt.
  3. (finance) Money that one person or entity owes or is required to pay to another, generally as a result of a loan or other financial transaction.
    • 1919, Upton Sinclair, chapter 15, in Jimmie Higgins:
      Bolsheviki had repudiated the four-billion-dollar debt which the government of the Tsar had contracted with the bankers.
    • 2013 June 22, “Engineers of a different kind”, in The Economist[2], volume 407, number 8841, page 70:
      Private-equity nabobs bristle at being dubbed mere financiers. Piling debt onto companies’ balance-sheets is only a small part of what leveraged buy-outs are about, they insist. Improving the workings of the businesses they take over is just as core to their calling, if not more so. Much of their pleading is public-relations bluster.
    • 2004, Carlin, George, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?[3], New York: Hyperion Books, →ISBN, OCLC 757869006, OL 24604921M, page 213:
      I don't own any stocks or bonds. All my money is tied up in debt.
  4. (law) An action at law to recover a certain specified sum of money alleged to be due.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Burrill to this entry?)

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Related termsEdit


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

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Middle EnglishEdit



  1. Alternative form of dette