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


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 Despite Aston's recent travails, culminating in the sale of part of the company to a consortium led by Lawrence Stroll, Aston remains committed to substantial investment, both in the creation of two new mid-engined models and the new powerplant. Mike Duff, Car and Driver, "Aston Martin Replacing AMG V-8 with a Hybrid V-6 It Will Make Itself," 5 Mar. 2020 The show documented the travails of a gang of friends at Bayside High School and is still popular in syndication. Chloe Melas, CNN, "'Saved by the Bell' reboot casts transgender actress Josie Totah," 7 Jan. 2020 Buffalo pulled out a 66-63 win in the game, but that was only the start of the Eagles’ travails. Jeff Kirik, Detroit Free Press, "How EMU's stranded women's basketball team ended up at a Pennsylvania fire station," 21 Jan. 2020 Perhaps nothing better sums up the travails of the Cubs than Darvish. Jon Tayler,, "Inconsistent Cubs Need Uninterrupted Success Soon to Avoid Disappointing Finish," 5 Sep. 2019 Alma is known to have edited her diaries (and Gustav’s correspondence), making them unreliable records of her travails. The Economist, "The life and loves of Alma Mahler," 14 June 2019 Photo: Everett Collection Last month it was officially listed, its $4 million price cut a reflection of the travails of the prime British property market. Ruth Bloomfield, WSJ, "Inside the London Home of Mary Poppins," 23 May 2018 Set in Seoul, South Korea, Parasite begins with the travails of the Kim family. Anne Cohen,, "Parasite Is A Wild, Thrilling Film & Unlike Anything You’ve Ever Seen," 6 Feb. 2020 The travails of WeWork and Uber, unicorns par excellence, recently demonstrated that justifying sky-high valuations may require a path to profitability after all. John Detrixhe, Quartz, "A guide to the biggest beasts in the fintech unicorn herd," 13 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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Time Traveler for travail

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

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Last Updated

29 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Travail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Apr. 2020.

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More Definitions for travail


How to pronounce travail (audio)

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

More from Merriam-Webster on travail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for travail

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with travail

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