la·​bor | \ ˈlā-bər How to pronounce labor (audio) \

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) : the services performed by workers for wages as distinguished from those rendered by entrepreneurs for profits
(2) : human activity that provides the goods or services in an economy Industry needs labor for production.
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
2a : an economic group comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages wants the vote of labor in the elections
b : the organizations or officials representing groups of workers negotiations between labor and management
c(1) : workers employed in an establishment
(2) : workers available for employment Immigrants provided a source of cheap labor.
3 usually Labour : the Labour party of the United Kingdom or of another part of the Commonwealth of Nations
4 : an act or process requiring labor : task The three-month project evolved into a year-long labor.
5 : a product of labor The flood destroyed the labor of years.


labored; laboring\ ˈlā-​b(ə-​)riŋ How to pronounce laboring (audio) \

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 suffer from some disadvantage or distress labor under a delusion
4 : to be in the labor of giving birth
5 of a ship : to pitch or roll heavily

transitive verb

1 : to treat or work out in often laborious detail labor the obvious
3 : to cause to labor

4 archaic

a : to spend labor on or produce by labor
b : to strive to effect or achieve



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

Confidence in the Indian economy is giving way to uncertainty as growth in the labor-intensive manufacturing sector has come to a near standstill, braking to 0.6% in the last quarter from 12.1% in the same period a year earlier. Washington Post, "India’s economy slows, stalling once thriving manufacturing," 16 Sep. 2019 The labor market is going strong, and job candidates have plenty of opportunities to choose from. Kathryn Vasel, CNN, "The job market is so good, new hires aren't showing up for their first day of work," 16 Sep. 2019 The terrain, with an incline of 35 to 50 degrees, is not accessible to machinery and considered too labor intensive to bring in human crews. Alan Berner, The Seattle Times, "Goats gobble wildfire fuel around Wenatchee, where dozens of homes burned in 2015," 22 July 2019 Wineries were already dealing with a labor shortage. Kayla Epstein, Washington Post, "Alex Trebek says he is resuming chemotherapy after his ‘numbers went sky-high’," 17 Sep. 2019 Already facing labor shortages, contractors warn that projects will face delays and that costs could rise if the workers are sent home or end up staying illegally. Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times, "Salvadorans, Washington’s Builders, Face Expulsion Under Trump," 13 Sep. 2019 At the same time, Marra is aware that tomography is not a practical substitute for the Forest Service’s carbon estimate system—which itself is a clunky and labor-intensive slog. Jan Ellen Spiegel, Quartz, "Scientists are finding that forests aren’t as good at fighting climate change as we thought," 12 Sep. 2019 Already high construction costs are expected to climb even more as labor shortages and uncertainty around tariff implications continue to add to the cost of building in Houston, according to a report from architecture firm Kirksey. Nancy Sarnoff, Houston Chronicle, "Report: Construction costs to rise as much as 5 percent," 12 Sep. 2019 The process of finding loads to carry has long been labor-intensive, involving email or phone negotiations that can be particularly onerous for solo operators or small carriers. David Z. Morris, Fortune, "Uber’s Freight Unit to Open New Chicago Headquarters," 9 Sep. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The two labored through five innings, totaling 137 pitches that included going to a full count nine times. Jeff Faraudo, The Mercury News, "Uninspired Giants lose to Nationals, fall below below .500," 5 Aug. 2019 Barria returned but labored through 3 2/3 innings, giving up three runs and five hits, including solo homers by Oscar Mercado in the first inning, Francisco Lindor in the third and Jason Kipnis in the fourth. Mike Digiovanna, Los Angeles Times, "Angels survive a couple of scares to Jaime Barria and Luke Bard in loss," 4 Aug. 2019 Saffitz has labored over handmade imitations of Twinkies, Starburst, and most recently, Pocky. Marella Gayla,, "Meet Claire Saffitz, the Internet’s favorite pastry chef," 27 Aug. 2019 In the meantime, hospital leaders have labored to train staff and warn them of potential fraud. Tony Romm, The Denver Post, "Robocalls are overwhelming hospitals and patients, threatening a new kind of health crisis," 23 June 2019 Yet most email newsletter writers are not laboring over their weekly digests purely out of the goodness of their hearts. Khe Hy, Quartz at Work, "Five “creator” apps that have captured Silicon Valley’s attention," 19 June 2019 In the meantime, hospital leaders have labored to train staff and warn them of potential fraud. Washington Post, "Robocalls are overwhelming hospitals and patients, threatening a new kind of health crisis," 17 June 2019 Transit riders traipsed down the stairs, some hauling luggage or grocery bags, while a crew labored over a broken escalator at an entrance to the Powell Street BART Station on a recent morning. Anna Bauman,, "BART kicks off $96.5 million project to replace 41 downtown escalators in 6 years," 9 Sep. 2019 This is further complicated because rather than a traditional worksite, the primary place of work is a home, with each worker laboring for a different employer at a different worksite, and often for multiple employers throughout the week. David Madland, Fortune, "A New ‘Bill of Rights’ for Domestic Workers Will Let Them Finally Bargain Collectively," 19 July 2019

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

11 Oct 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 How to pronounce labor (audio) \

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 How to pronounce labour (audio) \

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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