la·​bor | \ ˈlā-bər \

Definition of labor

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a : expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory was sentenced to six months at hard labor
b(1) : human activity that provides the goods or services in an economy Industry needs labor for production.
(2) : the services performed by workers for wages as distinguished from those rendered by entrepreneurs for profits
c : the physical activities (such as dilation of the cervix and contraction of the uterus) involved in giving birth also : the period of such labor
2 : an act or process requiring labor : task The three-month project evolved into a year-long labor.
3 : a product of labor The flood destroyed the labor of years.
4a : an economic group comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages wants the vote of labor in the elections
b(1) : workers employed in an establishment
(2) : workers available for employment Immigrants provided a source of cheap labor.
c : the organizations or officials representing groups of workers negotiations between labor and management
5 usually Labour : the Labour party of the United Kingdom or of another part of the Commonwealth of Nations


labored; laboring\ ˈlā-​b(ə-​)riŋ \

Definition of labor (Entry 2 of 3)

intransitive verb

1 : to exert one's powers of body or mind especially with painful or strenuous effort : work
2 : to move with great effort the truck labored up the hill
3 : to be in the labor of giving birth
4 : to suffer from some disadvantage or distress labor under a delusion
5 of a ship : to pitch or roll heavily

transitive verb

1 archaic

a : to spend labor on or produce by labor
b : to strive to effect or achieve
2 : to treat or work out in often laborious detail labor the obvious
4 : to cause to labor



Definition of labor (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : of or relating to labor
2 capitalized : of, relating to, or constituting a political party held to represent the interests of workers or made up largely of organized labor groups

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Choose the Right Synonym for labor


work, labor, travail, toil, drudgery, grind mean activity involving effort or exertion. work may imply activity of body, of mind, of a machine, or of a natural force. too tired to do any work labor applies to physical or intellectual work involving great and often strenuous exertion. farmers demanding fair compensation for their labor travail is bookish for labor involving pain or suffering. years of travail were lost when the house burned toil implies prolonged and fatiguing labor. his lot would be years of back-breaking toil drudgery suggests dull and irksome labor. an editorial job with a good deal of drudgery grind implies labor exhausting to mind or body. the grind of the assembly line


labor and work mean action involving effort or exertion. work can apply to either mental or physical effort and may involve something that is enjoyable but tiring. Decorating the gym was hard work. labor suggests great or unpleasant usually physical exertion. She dreaded the dull labor of cleaning.

Examples of labor in a Sentence


A day's labor should get the job done. Getting the job done will require many hours of difficult labor. He rested from his labors. The cost of repairing the car includes parts and labor. an area in which there is a shortage of cheap labor The proposed new law is opposed by organized labor. She went into labor this morning. She has been in labor for several hours. She began to have labor pains this morning. She had a difficult labor.


Workers labored in the vineyard. He labored for several years as a miner. She has labored in vain to convince them to accept her proposal. We should honor those who labored so long to make the truth known. The truck labored up the hill. I have been laboring through this book for months. She has a tendency to labor the obvious.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

As the labor market has tightened, employers have raised wages to attract workers. Christopher Rugaber, The Seattle Times, "U.S. retailers hope higher pay will buy more efficient workers," 1 Jan. 2019 Inflation is about in line with the Fed’s goal of 2 percent, economic growth isn’t out of control, and the labor market is strong, but not perfect. Emily Stewart, Vox, "What’s wrong with the stock market right now, explained," 18 Dec. 2018 Especially in this tight labor market employers competing for workers with generous benefits. Fox News, "Kevin Hassett talks corporate tax cut, rising wages," 24 Sep. 2018 The bottom line is that the Massachusetts legislation is unlikely to go very far in creating the kind of free-wheeling labor market that exists in Silicon Valley, with employees able to switch employers at any time. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Massachusetts gives workers new protections against noncompete clauses," 21 Aug. 2018 At the hospital earlier in the day, a 19-year-old woman, Michelle,* had arrived in labor. Amy Paturel, Good Housekeeping, "When People Ask Me How Many Children I Have, I Don't Know What to Say," 26 Dec. 2018 The place spans 100,000 square feet across two buildings, restored with a lot of labor from local Amish craftsman. Francine Maroukian, Popular Mechanics, "The Limitless Uses of Crazy Aaron's Thinking Putty," 26 Dec. 2018 Here, too, time is the challenge; one dress could easily require 100 hours of manual labor. Amy Verner, Vogue, "Vogue Got an Exclusive Tour of Chanel’s Ateliers While Tonight’s Métiers d’Art Collection Was Being Made," 5 Dec. 2018 The fruits of the company's labor have been slowly revealing themselves over the past year through software updates and the few Chrome OS tablets that are already available. Valentina Palladino, Ars Technica, "Pixel Slate review: Paying the “Google” premium for Chrome OS," 29 Nov. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Children learned, volunteers labored, the prairie lives on. Frank Vaisvilas, Daily Southtown, "Fellow volunteers honor memory of Hickory Hills man who launched forest preserve restoration efforts," 11 June 2018 Barrett, for his part, had been laboring to bring this project to reality since 2009. Sam Blum, Popular Mechanics, "This Completely Silent Airplane Achieves Flight With No Moving Parts," 26 Nov. 2018 Venezuelan businesses have been laboring under price controls for years, but there have been mechanisms for small adjustments. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Monetary Chaos in Caracas," 19 Aug. 2018 After laboring through two scoreless innings to open the game, Smith walked the based loaded in the third with one out. Jordan Mcpherson, miamiherald, "Two bad innings doom the Miami Marlins in series finale against Los Angeles Dodgers," 17 May 2018 Javier Zarracina/Vox In exchange, the laboring majority would make important gains. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "Top House Democrats join Elizabeth Warren’s push to fundamentally change American capitalism," 14 Dec. 2018 Attendance at Pittsburgh's Petersen Events Center hit record lows as Stallings' team labored through one of the worst campaigns in ACC history. Jeff Greer, The Courier-Journal, "Report: Kevin Stallings' shot at Louisville could cost the ex-Pitt coach millions," 9 Mar. 2018 From Thursday evening until early Saturday morning—31 excruciating hours—rescuers labored to save Toffee, a seven-week-old deaf and partially-blind puppy, from the bottom of a 50-foot hole in Huntsville, Alabama. Meghan Overdeep, Southern Living, "Team of Rescuers Save Deaf Puppy Trapped in 50-foot Hole for More Than 30 Hours," 2 July 2018 After Minor sizzled through seven, Martin and Jose Leclerc both labored to get through the eighth without too much damage. Stefan Stevenson, star-telegram, "Rangers' Mike Minor flirts with major perfection in win over Padres," 27 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The longer labor laws stand still, the better corporations get maneuvering around them. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump’s Labor Board Delivers Big Blow to Fast-Food Workers," 15 Dec. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'labor.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of labor


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


14th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1


1526, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for labor

Noun, Verb, and Adjective

Middle English, from Anglo-French labur, from Latin labor; perhaps akin to Latin labare to totter, labi to slip — more at sleep

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Statistics for labor

Last Updated

18 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for labor

The first known use of labor was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for labor



English Language Learners Definition of labor

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: physical or mental effort

: work for which someone is paid

: workers considered as a group



English Language Learners Definition of labor (Entry 2 of 2)

: to do work

: to work hard in order to achieve something

: to move or proceed with effort


la·​bor | \ ˈlā-bər \

Kids Definition of labor

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : usually hard physical or mental effort
2 : something that has to be done : task Now a procession of ants appeared … and went about their labors— Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer
3 : work for which someone is paid The bill included parts and labor.
4 : workers considered as a group There's a shortage of skilled labor.
5 : the process by which or time during which a woman gives birth


labored; laboring

Kids Definition of labor (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to work hard : toil Workers labored in the field.
2 : to move slowly and with great effort The truck labored up the hill.


variants: or British labour \ ˈlā-​bər \

Medical Definition of labor

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the physical activities involved in childbirth consisting essentially of a prolonged series of involuntary contractions of the uterine musculature together with both reflex and voluntary contractions of the abdominal wall drugs that induce labor went into labor after a fall also : the period of time during which such labor takes place
variants: or British labour

Medical Definition of labor (Entry 2 of 2)

: to be in the labor of giving birth

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More from Merriam-Webster on labor

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with labor

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for labor

Spanish Central: Translation of labor

Nglish: Translation of labor for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of labor for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about labor

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tremendous in size, volume, or degree

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