tra·​vail | \ trə-ˈvāl How to pronounce travail (audio) , ˈtra-ˌvāl \

Definition of travail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : work especially of a painful or laborious nature : toil
b : a physical or mental exertion or piece of work : task, effort
c : agony, torment


tra·​vail | \ trə-ˈvāl How to pronounce travail (audio) , ˈtra-ˌvāl; in prayer-​book communion service usually ˈtra-ˌvāl \
travailed; travailing; travails

Definition of travail (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to labor hard : toil

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Choose the Right Synonym for travail


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

Did You Know?


Etymologists are pretty certain that travail comes from trepalium, the Late Latin name of an instrument of torture. We don't know exactly what a trepalium looked like, but the word's history gives us an idea. Trepalium is derived from the Latin tripalis, which means "having three stakes" (from tri-, meaning "three," and palus, meaning "stake"). From trepalium sprang the Anglo-French verb travailler, which originally meant "to torment" but eventually acquired the milder senses "to trouble" and "to journey." The Anglo-French noun travail was borrowed into English in the 13th century, followed about a century later by travel, another descendant of travailler.

Examples of travail in a Sentence

Noun They finally succeeded after many months of travail. no greater travail than that of parents who have suffered the death of a child Verb Labor Day is the day on which we recognize those men and women who daily travail with little appreciation or compensation.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Who will miss the slaughterhouses, with their groan of travail that was never easy to bear in any age? Matthew Scully, National Review, "Hello Cultured Meat, Goodbye to the Cruelty of Industrial Animal Farming," 17 Jan. 2021 Forty is a biblical number, used as shorthand for a long period of isolation and travail. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, "For this artist and his girlfriend, life in lockdown became a creative opportunity," 12 Nov. 2020 Douglas and Paula Rigby inevitably find no easy answers to their financial travails and everyday ennui. oregonlive, "‘That Left Turn at Albuquerque’ offers noir-fiction staples, harsh look at American striving: book review," 20 Mar. 2020 Luxe Antarctica: Modern-day Antarctic polar explorers don’t have to endure the harrowing travails of British pioneer Ernest Shackleton. Michael George, National Geographic, "The Greta effect: Is climate change changing your travel?," 15 Oct. 2019 On stage at the Goodman Theatre, performing a solo show about the travails of her family as part of the Latino theater festival known as Destinos, is Marissa Chibas, who happens to be Raúl Chibas’ daughter. Chris Jones,, "Destinos Festival’s ‘Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary’ and ‘Delicate Tears of the Waning Moon’ are both tales of life under dictatorship," 9 Oct. 2019 But whether the industry’s travails end with the summer depends a lot on the success of current measures, some of which are being lifted against the advice of public health experts. Natasha Frost, Quartz, "This year’s summer vacation will be local, outdoors, and subject to cancellation," 24 Apr. 2020 The international banking system has been a major actor in the trials and travails of her empire. Max De Haldevang, Quartz Africa, "How Africa’s richest woman bought her way out of scrutiny from Western banks," 19 Jan. 2020 The Verge has an inside look at the trials and travails of content moderators at Google’s YouTube. Robert Hackett, Fortune, "You Tell Us: Should People Use Facial Recognition?," 18 Dec. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'travail.' 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 travail


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for travail


Middle English, from Anglo-French, from travailler to torment, labor, journey, from Vulgar Latin *trepaliare to torture, from Late Latin trepalium instrument of torture, from Latin tripalis having three stakes, from tri- + palus stake — more at pole

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The first known use of travail was in the 13th century

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Cite this Entry

“Travail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for travail



English Language Learners Definition of travail

formal : a difficult experience or situation
literary : painful or difficult work or effort


tra·​vail | \ trə-ˈvā(ə)l How to pronounce travail (audio) , ˈtrav-ˌāl How to pronounce travail (audio) \

Medical Definition of travail

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