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

Essential Meaning of labor

1 : physical or mental effort : work A day's labor should get the job done. Getting the job done will require many hours of difficult labor. See More Examplesmenial/manual labor He rested from his labors.Hide
2 : work for which someone is paid The cost of repairing the car includes parts and labor.
3 : workers considered as a group an area in which there is a shortage of cheap labor

Full 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 labor (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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Examples of labor in a Sentence

Noun 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. Verb 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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The union representing some 1,000 Seattle police personnel argues that the matter should be the subject of labor negotiations. Bobby Caina Calvan And John Seewer, Anchorage Daily News, 15 Oct. 2021 Consumers have been experiencing higher prices across an array of spending categories in recent months as businesses pass along higher materials, shipping and labor costs., 15 Oct. 2021 Arguably, the stakes have never been higher as climate change, economic issues, an extended pandemic, labor concerns and overwhelming partisanship are dominating news headlines. Jamie Cohen, Forbes, 15 Oct. 2021 Brad Morris, vice president of labor relations for John Deere, said the company would keep its operations running while efforts are made to resolve the strike. Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 15 Oct. 2021 At the major port of Trieste, where some labor groups had threatened to block operations in protest against the rule, the situation appeared largely calm, with some workers demonstrating but others being allowed to carry on as usual. Reuters, CNN, 15 Oct. 2021 The medication is effective at first; the back pain caused by her labor in the mines abates. Jen Chaney, Vulture, 15 Oct. 2021 Mancuso said the union’s attorney’s have filed an unfair labor practice with the Office of the Labor Commissioner, and threatened additional legal action in attempt at to delay the implementation of this policy. Jessica Anderson,, 15 Oct. 2021 In Britain, such work was largely carried out by migrant labor from Eastern Europe, who reportedly constituted up to 80 percent of the country’s slaughterhouse workforce. Washington Post, 15 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb These judges, paid a pittance compared with many of the lawyers who labor before them, are the glue that makes our judiciary the fairest and most respected in the world. WSJ, 6 Oct. 2021 Everything else is fixable from there, and that’s exactly what Brian Flores and his coaching staff will labor to do in the following 17 weeks of the 2021 regular season. Steve Svekis,, 12 Sep. 2021 As Democrats labor to keep Mr. Biden’s proposal on track in Congress amid deep internal divisions, a robust influence campaign is meeting it at every turn. New York Times, 4 Oct. 2021 Over centuries, various faiths regarded purgatory as a journey through purifying flames, a punitive passage for the unrepentant, a station where souls not quite divine must labor to correct lives misspent., 6 Sep. 2021 When her contractions began, Nelson-Cavil was able to labor at home for three days, while the midwives visited regularly to check her progress. Los Angeles Times, 18 Aug. 2021 This week, the richest man in the world took a jaunty tour of space, and then thanked the workers who labor in his warehouses for providing him with the opportunity. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, 23 July 2021 Canadian lumber producers also labor under the burden of a 9% tariff on exports to the U.S. John Dorfman, Forbes, 14 June 2021 Farmworkers labor through about 21 unsafe working days every growing season when the heat index reaches 84 degrees, according to a March 2020 analysis by researchers with the University of Washington. Leticia Miranda, NBC News, 14 June 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective North American proteins are still pretty labor intensive businesses. Eben Shapiro, Time, 15 Aug. 2021 Now barely 8% of Wisconsin's workforce are members of a union, roughly the same percentage as in Alabama, a state with a long and violent anti-labor history. Dan Kaufman, Star Tribune, 7 July 2021 As a pro-business Democrat, he was tapped by Mr. Wyden to hash out a corporate tax package with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a pro-labor Democrat. Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, 20 June 2021 In addition to the battles over the future of green energy, the White House is supporting bills to help workers organize and has made aggressively pro-labor personnel moves. Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times, 2 June 2021 Although the party as a whole is unambiguously anti-labor, some Republican legislators nonetheless vote pro-union. Timothy Noah, The New Republic, 2 Apr. 2021 The higher minimum wage takes effect along with several other pro-labor laws that Virginia’s then-newly blue General Assembly pushed through in early 2020 after flipping the state Senate and House of Delegates. Washington Post, 30 Apr. 2021 Joe Biden has been president for only four months, but he’s already been hailed as the country’s most pro-labor leader since Franklin Delano Roosevelt showed up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Aarian Marshall, Wired, 11 May 2021 Democrats were split on the proposition, with some old-school, pro-labor liberals simply unwilling to vote against the concept of collective bargaining. Gilbert Garcia, San Antonio Express-News, 5 May 2021

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More About labor

Time Traveler for labor

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for labor

Last Updated

17 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Labor.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for labor


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, The Adventures of 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.

Choose the Right Synonym for labor


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.


variants: or British labour \ ˈlā-​bər How to pronounce labor (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


intransitive verb
variants: or British labour

Medical Definition of labor (Entry 2 of 2)

: to be in the labor of giving birth

More from Merriam-Webster on labor

Nglish: Translation of labor for Spanish Speakers

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet pasta spelling help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!