verb (used with object)

to gain or get in return for one's labor or service: to earn one's living.
to merit as compensation, as for service; deserve: to receive more than one has earned.
to acquire through merit: to earn a reputation for honesty.
to gain as due return or profit: Savings accounts earn interest.
to bring about or cause deservedly: His fair dealing earned our confidence.

verb (used without object)

to gain income: securities that earn on a quarterly basis.

Origin of earn

before 900; Middle English ern(i)en, Old English earnian; akin to Old High German arnēn to earn, harvest
Related formsearn·er, noun
Can be confusedearn urn

Synonyms for earn



verb (used without object) Obsolete.

to grieve.

Origin of earn

First recorded in 1570–80; perhaps variant of yearn
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for earning

Contemporary Examples of earning

Historical Examples of earning

  • In this way he would be earning something, and it would be better than being idle.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • Only three of them she knew made any pretence of earning their living.

  • As to "earning her living," I am not sure but she was learning to do it in several ways.

  • I am earning my bread in the way I desire—I am independent—I want them not.

    Night and Morning, Complete

    Edward Bulwer-Lytton

  • To hear her speak of "earning one's living" was too much for him.

British Dictionary definitions for earning



to gain or be paid (money or other payment) in return for work or service
(tr) to acquire, merit, or deserve through behaviour or actionhe has earned a name for duplicity
(tr) (of securities, investments, etc) to gain (interest, return, profit, etc)

Word Origin for earn

Old English earnian; related to Old High German arnēn to reap, Old Saxon asna salary, tithe
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for earning



Old English earnian "deserve, earn, merit, win, get a reward for labor," from Proto-Germanic *aznojan (cf. Old Frisian esna "reward, pay"), from *azna "labor" especially "field labor" (cf. Old Norse önn "work in the field"), from PIE *aznon "to do harvest work, serve" (cf. Old High German arnon "to reap"), denominative verb from *es-en- "harvest, fall" (cf. Old High German aren "harvest, crop," German Ernte "harvest," Old English ern "harvest," Gothic asans "harvest, summer," Old Church Slavonic jeseni, Russian osen, Old Prussian assanis "autumn").

Also from the same root are Gothic asneis, Old High German esni "hired laborer, day laborer," Old English esne "serf, laborer, man." Related: Earned; earning.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with earning


In addition to the idioms beginning with earn

  • earn one's keep
  • earn one's stripes

also see:

  • penny saved is a penny earned
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.