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

  • auxiliary v. Used to indicate obligation or duty: You ought to work harder than that.
  • auxiliary v. Used to indicate advisability or prudence: You ought to wear a raincoat.
  • auxiliary v. Used to indicate desirability: You ought to have been there; it was great fun.
  • auxiliary v. Used to indicate probability or likelihood: She ought to finish by next week.
  • pro. Variant of aught1.
  • n. Variant of aught2.
  • v. Obsolete A past participle of owe.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. Simple past of owe.
  • v. Indicating duty or obligation.
  • v. Indicating advisability or prudence.
  • v. Indicating desirability.
  • v. Indicating likelihood or probability.
  • pro. Alternative spelling of aught. anything
  • adv. Alternative spelling of aught. at all, to any degree.
  • n. A statement of what ought to be the case as contrasted to what is the case.
  • n. Alternative spelling of aught. cipher, zero, nought.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Was or were under obligation to pay; owed.
  • 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.
  • n. See aught.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Same as aught. Compare naught, nought.
  • 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.
  • n. Possession: same as aught.
  • n. Nought; a cipher.


Middle English oughten, to be obliged to, from oughte, owned, from Old English āhte, past tense of āgan, to possess.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Old English āhte, past tense of āgan ("own, possess") (Wiktionary)



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

    January 5, 2010

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

    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

  • (1)

    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

  • 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