from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • auxiliary verb Used to indicate obligation or duty.
  • auxiliary verb Used to indicate advisability or prudence.
  • auxiliary verb Used to indicate desirability.
  • auxiliary verb Used to indicate probability or likelihood.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Same as aught. Compare naught, nought.
  • noun Possession: same as aught.
  • Owned; the preterit of the verb owe, to possess, own. See owe.
  • Owed; the preterit and past participle of the verb owe, to be indebted or obliged.
  • To be held or bound in duty or moral obligation.
  • To be fit or expedient in a moral view; be a natural or expected consequence, result, effect, etc.
  • To be necessary or advisable; behoove.
  • To befit: used impersonally.
  • = Syn. 3-5. Ought, Should. Ought is the stronger, expressing especially obligations of duty, with some weaker use in expressing interest or necessity: as, you ought to know, if any one does. Should sometimes expresses duty: as, we should be careful of others' feelings; but generally expresses propriety, expediency, etc.: as, we should dot our i's and cross our t's.
  • noun Nought; a cipher.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • obsolete Was or were under obligation to pay; owed.
  • obsolete Owned; possessed.
  • To be bound in duty or by moral obligation.
  • To be necessary, fit, becoming, or expedient; to behoove; -- in this sense formerly sometimes used impersonally or without a subject expressed.
  • noun See aught.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • verb obsolete Simple past of owe.
  • verb auxiliary Indicating duty or obligation.
  • verb auxiliary Indicating advisability or prudence.
  • verb auxiliary Indicating desirability.
  • verb auxiliary Indicating likelihood or probability.
  • pronoun Alternative spelling of aught. anything
  • adverb Alternative spelling of aught. at all, to any degree.
  • noun A statement of what ought to be the case as contrasted to what is the case.
  • noun Alternative spelling of aught. cipher, zero, nought.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English oughten, to be obliged to, from oughte, owned, from Old English āhte, past tense of āgan, to possess; see aik- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English āhte, past tense of āgan ("own, possess")


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  • The latter has been questioned on the grounds that even if it is true that ˜green™ ought to be applied this way, the ˜ought™ in question may not have anything to do with semantics but, say, with religious practices (Byrne 2002: 207).

    The Normativity of Meaning and Content Glüer, Kathrin 2009

  • He was also the first to attempt to provide an integrated account of non-conditional and conditional ought statements, one that provided an analysis of conditional ˜ought™s via a monadic deontic operator coupled with a material conditional (reminiscent of similar failed attempts in von Wright 1951 to analyze the dyadic notion of commitment), and allowed for a form of factual detachment (more below).

    Deontic Logic McNamara, Paul 2006

  • "My brethren, these things ought not so to be;" _ought not_ -- that is, they are unnatural.

    Sermons Preached at Brighton Third Series Frederick W. Robertson

  • ‘I ought, indeed … children, no … too soon … but a wife … if the world went as it ought…

    Chapter XIV 1909

  • For my own part, I would agree with Polk that we ought to own that country to fifty-four forty -- but what we _ought_ to do and what we can do are two separate matters.

    54-40 or Fight Emerson Hough 1890

  • One of her positive convictions was, that you ought not to give them any thing they _ought_ to provide for themselves, such as food or clothing or shelter.

    The Vicar's Daughter George MacDonald 1864

  • Even if they come as often as they are able, I know well they will not be _satisfied_ with their own feelings; they will be conscious even then that they ought to grieve more than they do; of course none of us feels the great event of this day as he ought, and therefore we all _ought_ to be dissatisfied with ourselves.

    Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VII (of 8) John Henry Newman 1845

  • There was no room for it while the other thought, so engrossing, was there; and to say that she _ought_ to have thought of both the results which might follow her action, is only to say that she ought to be older.

    Gentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young Or, the Principles on Which a Firm Parental Authority May Be Established and Maintained, Without Violence or Anger, and the Right Development of the Moral and Mental Capacities Be Promoted by Methods in Harmony with the Structure and the Characteristics of the Juvenile Mind Jacob Abbott 1841

  • When I said to myself, "I have done those things that I ought not to have done, and have _left undone_ those things that I _ought_ to have done," I was startled at the measure of sin that I had confessed.

    Rattlin the Reefer Edward Howard 1820

  • Now I do not broach the abstract question of equality: I am willing to admit that in the eye of our Maker we are, and before the law ought to be, all equal -- that is to say, _ought all to have an equal chance_; but to abolish the idea of subordination in the employed to the employer, and to abrogate the relation of dependence of the servant upon her or his master or mistress, would simply be to reverse the teachings of inspiration and nature.

    The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No 3, September 1864 Devoted To Literature And National Policy Various


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  • I’ve read sentences with “ought . . . to” and sentences without that “to”:

    (1) Ought the idgit to fidget?

    (2) Ought the idgit fidget?

    Can someone tell me whether there is some grammatical or stylistic difference?


    January 5, 2010

  • Generally (1) seems more natural to me. The only time (2) sounds right is in the negative, with the contraction oughtn't. So I would say:

    - Ought the idgit to fidget?

    - No, the idgit oughtn't fidget.


    - No, the idgit ought not to fidget.

    If I thought the idgit ought to fidget, I'd say:

    - Yes, the idgit ought to fidget.

    I couldn't say what basis I have for this. Interesting to see what others think.

    January 5, 2010

  • (1)

    January 5, 2010

  • I thought I ought to comment on this. Comment on it, I thought I ought. Indeed, I thought, to comment on it, I ought.

    January 5, 2010

  • I don’t want to close this discussion just yet, but thanks you three.

    January 5, 2010

  • Before being caught, ought fought for naught,'twas thought.

    January 5, 2010