What Does Active Duty Mean?

Active Duty Meaning

Definition: Full time in the military or police force.

Origin of Active Duty

This was a military term that originated around the early 1800s. Active duty refers to people currently serving in the military and those who are actively engaged.

Reserve members refers to people who are enlisted in the military but aren’t currently serving.

Over time, people began to occasionally use this expression to mean anyone engaged in something full time, regardless of whether or not it was the military.

Examples of Active Duty

definition of active duty militaryIn this dialogue, a brother and sister are discussing a big decision.

Maria: So, what is the big news that you said you wanted to tell me?

Franco: Well, you know how you’ve been saying I need to be more responsible?

Maria: Yes.

Franco: I decided that one way for me to learn discipline and responsibility was to join the army.

Maria: What?

Franco: I plan to start active duty as soon as possible.

Maria: Franco, I just wanted you to control your spending. I didn’t want you to enlist in the army!

Franco: I know. But I think it will be good for me.

Maria: But, I don’t want you to get killed!

define active dutyThe second example shows two university students discussing their plan for graduation.

Lorenzo: Are you graduating at the end of this year?

Alba: Yes! I’m finally graduating 7 years after starting college!

Lorenzo: Wow. I didn’t realize you were here for that long.

Alba: I wasn’t enrolled the whole time. I started school and then got called to active duty. I had to take a break for three years to serve in the navy.

Lorenzo: Oh wow! I had no idea.

Alba: Yeah! I’m glad I’m finally finishing after all this time.

More Examples

The excerpt below is about a military family whose grandmother was deported.

  • His mother, Lt. Col. Marie Pauley, is on active duty in the Army and has been deployed around the world. She said she appreciates Arredondo’s role as the other grandmother in her grandchildren’s lives. –LA Times

This excerpt is about a military movie.

  • TV doesn’t air many dramas about active-duty military, in part because it’s expensive to stage full-scale combat scenes, and in part because of the tricky politics of modern warfare. –LA Times


The phrase active duty is an expression to describe a person who is currently serving in the armed forces.