I'm reading a book which states the following sentence:

When our flight was delayed, we all had a meal at the airline's expense.

I've tried to find in the following dictionary the definition of the word expense in this context but I'm not sure which one of them is the right.

To which definition in the following dictionary is matched? Dictionary.com: expense

  • If you read the entire page at that URL, you will see this link: dictionary.com/browse/at--the--expense--of (By the way, you should always consult multiple dictionaries, and be sure to read example sentences. The OneLook site makes it easy to look up a word in many dictionaries. Oct 31, 2016 at 2:57
  • Thank you for the advice. I saw the example of "at the expense of" but I wasn't sure about it. the definition which Max brought from the Oxford dictionary, looks more exact and immediately answers on my question without any doubt. Oct 31, 2016 at 4:45
  • 1
    Very good! Be sure to make a bookmark for onelook.com and use it whenever you need to consult a dictionary. There are many different dictionaries, but no single dictionary has the perfect definition and usage example of every word. If you read and understand all of the entries, and especially all of the example sentences, you will have a better chance of learning how a given word is used. Oct 31, 2016 at 4:58
  • Really it's just the first one: cost
    – shawnt00
    Nov 3, 2016 at 16:43

2 Answers 2


I'm not entirely happy with the entries given in the link.

  1. at someone's expense
    Paid for by someone.
    ‘the document was printed at the taxpayer's expense’
    1.1 With someone as the victim, especially of a joke.
    ‘my friends all had a good laugh at my expense’

So in OP's example, the airline paid for "our" meals. In other words, the meals were free to compensate "us" for the delay.


Towards a more general definition...

When something is "at someone's|something's expense" :

We had a meal at the airline's expense.

The joke was at his expense.

You planted those shade trees at my garden's expense.

The cuckoo lays its eggs in the nest of another species of bird, at the expense of the other bird's chicks.

the cost is borne by that person or entity, and the "cost" can be literal (an expenditure of money, a loss of income) or figurative, such as loss of "face", a loss of standing in a group or community, a (permanent or momentary) loss of respect, or, as in the case of the garden, a loss of growth, a result of being deprived of sunlight, or a loss of life itself, as in the case of the birds in the nest.


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