Definition: Debt

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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). 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.
  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.
    The national debt can be measured in the trillions of dollars.
  4. (law) An action at law to recover a certain specified sum of money alleged to be due.

Derived terms

  • acquisition debt
  • bonded debt
  • carbon debt
  • collateralized debt obligation
  • debt ceiling
  • debt collection
  • debt enforcement
  • debt-equity ratio
  • debt exchange
  • debt-financed
  • debt-free
  • debt instrument
  • debt obligation
  • debt relief
  • domestic debt
  • external debt
  • foreign debt
  • government debt
  • national debt
  • nonfinancial debt
  • public debt
  • sovereign debt
  • technical debt
  • unsecured debt

Related terms

  • debit
  • debitor
  • debtor
  • indebted


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