What Does Duty Bound Mean?

Duty Bound Meaning

Definition: Obligated to do something because of one’s responsibilities.

Origin of Duty Bound

Sources place this idiom’s origin in the 1500s. Digital records in the form in duty bound or by duty bound go back to at least the 1600s. It appears as if the word in, however, started to disappear from use around the early 1900s.

Over the course of the last four or five centuries, this phrase has not changed in meaning.

Duty is a noun that means requirement or responsibility. Bound comes from bind. Someone who is bound to something is required to do that thing, whether legally or morally. Therefore, this expression is fairly literal in meaning.

People often use this expression when they feel righteous about something.

Examples of Duty Bound

define duty boundIn the following example, two friends are discussing a child that they believe is having problems at home.

Kerry: I’m getting ready to call child services.

Christine: What is that?

Kerry: It’s the department in charge of welfare for children. One of my students keeps coming to class with bruises on his arms. The bruises are in the shape of handprints. I think one of his parents is abusing him.

Christine: Really? What if you’re wrong? Maybe you shouldn’t call. What if they take him away from his parents, but his parents are innocent?

Kerry: If I’m wrong, Child Welfare Services will figure it out and the child can stay with his parents. But I don’t have a choice. As a teacher, I am duty bound to report any suspected cases of abuse. If I don’t report it, I could face legal consequences.

duty bound originIn this dialogue, two friends are talking about local politics.

Arlena: What is all this stuff?

Nyima: This is all paperwork for running for local office.

Arlena: Are you thinking of getting involved with politics?

Nyima: I never wanted to be a politician, but I feel duty bound to take part in improving our community by running.

More Examples

The example below is from an article about characters in an opera.

  • Chrystal E. Williams likewise impressed as Charlotte, the woman who catches Werther’s fancy before he learns that she is duty-bound to another. –Baltimore Sun

This excerpt is about the importance of helping veterans.

  • Most veterans return to civilian life in good health, but some come back with injuries both seen and unseen. We are duty-bound as a country to provide for these veterans who put their lives and health on the line for our liberties and came home in need of our help. –The Hill


The expression duty bound means one must do something because it is one’s requirement from a job or moral conviction.