This area owes its most fundamental traits to the fact that it is built of three distinctive crustal units.

What's the meaning of the word 'owe'? 'Owe' in Longman dictionary of contemporary English:

owe [transitive]

1 money to need to pay someone for something that they have done for you or sold to you, or to need to give someone back money that they have lent you [↪ borrow, lend] owe somebody money/£10 etc. I owe my brother $50.
owe somebody for something I still owe you for the taxi. How much do I owe you (=often used to show that you want to pay for something)?
owe something to somebody the money owed to credit card companies

2 something done/given to feel that you should do something for someone or give someone something, because they have done something for you or given something to you: He asked for help from a colleague who owed him a favour.
owe somebody a drink/letter etc I owe Shaun a letter; I must write soon. Thanks a lot for being so understanding about all this - I owe you one (=used to thank someone who has helped you, and to say that you are willing to help them in the future)!
owe somebody (=be in a position in which someone has helped you, so that you should help them) Let's go and see Joe - he owes me!

3 owe somebody an explanation/apology to feel that you should give someone an explanation of why you did something, or say you are sorry: You owe him an apology.

4 help to achieve something
a) to have something or achieve something because of what someone else has done owe something to somebody He probably owes his life to her prompt action.
b) to know that someone's help has been important to you in achieving something owe somebody a lot/owe somebody a great deal I owe my parents a lot,' he admitted. He owes a great deal to his publishers.
owe it all to somebody/owe everything to somebody I owe it all to you.
owe somebody a debt (of gratitude) the debt that we owe to our teachers

5 good effect to be successful because of the good effect or influence of something or someone owe to Their success owes more to good luck than to careful management. Pearson's work owed much to the research of his friend, Hugh Kingsmill.

6 owe it to somebody to do something -- to feel you should do something for someone, because they have helped you or given you support: You owe it to your supporters not to give up now.

7 owe it to yourself to do something -- to feel you should try to achieve something because it is what you deserve: You owe it to yourself to take some time off.

8 owe loyalty/allegiance etc to somebody -- to have a duty to obey someone: provinces owing allegiance to the Emperor

9 think that the world owes you a living -- to be unwilling to work in order to get things, and expect them to be provided for you - used to show disapproval

  • None of the above. In this sense it basically means "inherits" -- it derives it's traits from the stated factors.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 20:08
  • 2
    It's actually sense 5 above (which needs expanding: to obtain (intransitive) or to be successful because of the good effect, influence or causative force of something or someone). The weather in Yellowstone owes much to the funnelling effect of the Tetons. Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 1:14

2 Answers 2


It corresponds to the intransitive verb definition #2 here:


2 : to be attributable

The closest definition in the Longman's list is probably #4.

  • 1
    Collins also: owe vb (mainly tr) ... 3. (often foll by to) to have as a result (of): he owes his success to chance. Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 20:44

well depends which 'owe' you want to use, I can do simplified versions of the definitions above. what you're looking for is kind of already said in the definitions, so my answer is going to look somewhat like the definition.

("Okay, you owe me 20 bucks")

1.having to give back or pay someone back the amount of money you borrowed and or took.

("Thanks man! I owe you!")

2.the act of showing your gratitude by promising that you will give back something in return to the person's good deed

("I owe them an apology")

3.when someone does not feel like they've done the right decision in a situation, causing them to have to say something to the thing they've displeased.

("I owe this winning all to my family, without them I would've lost")

4.when someone has achieved their goal with the help of someone else, making them show their appreciation.

5.pretty much the same as 4.

pretty much everything after this is the same as definitions above.

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage @wisty. Can you explain how this works to answer the question?
    – user63230
    Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 3:41
  • Instead of doing one short definition of one way of how the word 'owe' might be used, I tried making more simpler version of each definition to help give a background on what the meaning of 'owe' might be.
    – wisty
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 2:41
  • The question gave a quote, and the OP is asking what it means. IMHO this answer does not address the question, so I asked you to explain, as encouragement to write a better answer. I encourage you check out the help center :-)
    – user63230
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 10:26

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