plural noun
the state of being behind or late, especially in the fulfillment of a duty, promise, obligation, or the like: Many homeowners have fallen into arrears.
Sometimes, arrear. something overdue in payment; a debt that remains unpaid: Those countries that have paid their arrears may be granted additional loans.
in arrears, behind or late, especially in payment: She was three months in arrears on her mortgage and credit card payments. Also, Chiefly Law, in arrear.

1300–50; noun use of arrear (adv., now obsolete), Middle English arere behind < Middle FrenchLatin ad retrō. See ad-, retro-

arrearage, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
arrears (əˈrɪəz)
1.  (sometimes singular) Also called: arrearage something outstanding or owed
2.  in arrears, in arrear late in paying a debt or meeting an obligation
[C18: from obsolete arrear (adv) behindhand, from Old French arere, from Medieval Latin adretrō, from Latin ad to + retrō backwards]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

early 14c., from O.Fr. ariere "behind, backward," from V.L. *ad retro, from L. ad "to" + retro "behind." Meaning "balance due" dates from mid-15c.; phrase in arrears first recorded 1620, but in arrearages is from late 14c.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases


see in arrears.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
The president of our co-op board is in arrears on his maintenance.
Arrears have risen sharply, too, although they are nowhere near as high as in subprime.
Interest on arrears would not be considered for this calculation.
Methodically she laid out the rent arrears, the rate of repayment.
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Idioms & Phrases
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