1. Something owed, such as money, goods, or services: used the proceeds to pay off her debts; a debt of gratitude.
2. An obligation or liability to pay or render something to someone else: students burdened with debt.
3. The condition of owing: a young family always in debt.
4. Financial instruments, such as bonds, mortgages, and loans, that represent a claim to payment and rights of creditorship: invested in government debt; a company issuing debt.
5. A moral or legal obligation to make reparations or undergo punishment for committing an offense: a criminal repaying his debt to society.
[Middle English dette, from Old French, from Vulgar Latin *dēbita, pl. of Latin dēbitum, debt, neuter past participle of dēbēre, to owe; see ghabh- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.