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

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Almost half didn’t mention any issues that bothered them about foreigners, while more than a fifth were worried about competition in the labor market, according to government feedback unit Reach, which conducted the poll. Abhishek Vishnoi,, "Singaporeans Mainly Unconcerned With Foreign Workers, Poll Shows," 10 Oct. 2020 Rothstein said employment rates for each group that graduated during and after the 2008 recession were about 2% lower relative to older workers despite the labor market steadily growing throughout the 2010s. Abdel Jimenez,, "Gen Z college grads struggle to launch careers in pandemic economy. ‘I chose the worst year to get my life together.’," 9 Oct. 2020 As a result, labor market gains could be diminished, slowing the pace of economic recovery. Justin Lahart, WSJ, "Covid Is Crushing Small Businesses. That’s Bad News for American Innovation.," 9 Oct. 2020 The move was a chance to leave his troubles behind — the constant harassment by police, the discrimination against felons in the labor market, the downward pull of his old neighborhood. Washington Post, "How systemic racism shaped Floyd’s life and hobbled his ambition," 8 Oct. 2020 Obviously, the current labor market is vastly different, Rae noted, with last month's unemployment rate roughly twice the comparable figure last year. Christopher Snowbeck, Star Tribune, "Family health insurance costs surpass $21,000," 8 Oct. 2020 Meanwhile, the labor market has recovered more quickly this year than after previous recessions. Daniel Tenreiro, National Review, "The Capital Note: Yield Curve, Corporations & Climate," 8 Oct. 2020 Wind energy is responsible for about 25,000 jobs, far more than any other state, and with more and more projects in the pipeline, wind turbine service technicians are one of the most in-demand jobs in the state’s labor market. Popular Science, "The pandemic could end Texas’s oil boom—and start something better," 5 Oct. 2020 And the latest jobs report out on Oct. 2 found that women’s participation rate in the labor market continues to fall faster than for men. Stephanie M.h. Moore, The Conversation, "Women risk losing decades of workplace progress due to COVID-19 – here’s how companies can prevent that," 5 Oct. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Ferrante must labor to get Vittoria up to Costanza’s affluent neighborhood to meet this woman and spot a bracelet on her wrist that happens to be the one Vittoria gave to Giovanna when she was born. Elaine Blair, The New York Review of Books, "Making Order of the Breakdown," 8 Sep. 2020 For those who labor, for those do the work, the seed is planted. Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, "Octavia E. Butler makes the New York Times Best Sellers list," 4 Sep. 2020 Amazon warehouses employ hundreds of thousands of workers who labor alongside a similar number of robots. Jacqueline Davalos,, "Amazon’s Boler Davis In Mix to Become First Black Logistics Head," 31 Aug. 2020 Webb was the victim of shoddy defense, which has been the storyline way too often for the 2020 Giants, and was was forced to labor through an ugly third inning that decided the opener of a three-game series in Houston. John Shea,, "Giants’ 9th-inning rally falls short in loss to Astros," 10 Aug. 2020 Not everyone can labor in a cabin with the wisewoman of their choosing. Jennifer Block, Longreads, "The Criminalization of the American Midwife," 10 Mar. 2020 Even more so since some teams might labor with injuries and conditioning after the NBA’s halted season. Mark Medina, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Rockets could be the NBA's ultimate disruptor en route to title," 3 Aug. 2020 People working as jade pickers often labor in perilous conditions, scrambling up and down the steep hills of rubble and loose shale. Helen Regan, CNN, "Jade mine landslide kills at least 100 in Myanmar, with more people still missing," 2 July 2020 Like the staggering 70% of Peruvian workers that labor in the informal sector, the notebook and school-supply salesman lived largely day to day, without much savings to fall back on. Whitney Eulich, The Christian Science Monitor, "‘We’re invisible’: Peru’s moment of reckoning on informal workers," 30 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Joyce is a former nurse, Ron is an ex-labor activist, Ibrahim is a retired psychiatrist, and Elizabeth is bound by the Official Secrets Act. Tom Nolan, WSJ, "Mysteries: No Door but the Exit," 18 Sep. 2020 The pro-labor Left has struggled under the reality of this system, too; private unionization is down to about 6 percent of the work force. Robert Verbruggen, National Review, "A Conservative Future for the Labor Movement?," 10 Sep. 2020 With Emma in the pre-labor room, Edmond decided to take a video of their last moments as a family of two. Alisha Ebrahimji, CNN, "Video shows moments before Beirut explosion tore through a pregnant woman's hospital room. She gave birth right after," 7 Aug. 2020 False Facebook is not removing a photo of Tlaib being arrested during a pro-labor rally in Detroit. Mckenzie Sadeghi, USA TODAY, "Fact check: Facebook is not removing a photo of Rashida Tlaib being arrested in 2018," 31 July 2020 Even though northeastern Minnesota has long been a liberal, pro-labor stronghold, many people now back Mr. Trump, whose administration has aggressively supported Twin Metals. Jack Brook, The Christian Science Monitor, "Conservation vs. copper: Minnesota town debates its future with a mine," 2 July 2020 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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Time Traveler for labor

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for labor

Last Updated

16 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Labor.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for labor


How to pronounce labor (audio)

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.

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 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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