I'm reading Barron's 1100 essential words and in Day 2 of bonus week A it introduces the word "miscreant" but I don't fully understand the example sentence.

Here is the example sentence:

This is the basic measure of damages, and it’s owed by the miscreants to the company and shareholders.

The sentence is an excerpt from Ben Stein, State of the Union.

I know that "A owes B" means A has to pay B for something A has received from B before. But what is the meaning of "it is owed by" in this sentence? What does "it" refer to?

Please provide a reference (like Oxford learners or Cambridge dictionary) for the meaning of "owe" in my question.

  • 2
    the damages are owed by the miscreants to the company -> the miscreants owe the [value of] the damages to the company
    – Esther
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 16:27

2 Answers 2


"(thing) is owed by X to Y" is a passive-voice version of "X owes Y (thing)."

For instance, "$100 is owed by Fred to George" is the same as "Fred owes George $100."

If we convert your sentence from the passive voice to the active, it becomes:

The miscreants owe the company and shareholders the basic measure of damages.


"Damages" means money that a court orders a person to pay.

a sum of money claimed or awarded in compensation for a loss or an injury.
"she was awarded $284,000 in damages" (Lexico)

In your example the "miscreants" (people who do something wrong) owe damages-money to the company and its shareholders. Although the word "damages" is plural, it is sometimes treated as uncountable and singular. So "it" refers to "the damages"

The word "owe" has its usual sense of "have to pay money" Here is used in the passive voice.

This is a very unclear example of the word miscreant. I hope it wasn't the only example. But at least it's not from Shakespeare or some other author from hundreds of years ago.

  • 1
    Actually this example sentence is not used to teach the word. At the end of the book there is a section named "panorama of words" and for every word there is a sentence from famous books or newsoapers or court decisions, etc. in order to show that many educated English-speaking people use those words in their writing. Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 18:40

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