noun tra·vail \ trə-ˈvāl , ˈtra-ˌvāl \
|Updated on: 3 Aug 2018

Definition of travail

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

travail was our Word of the Day on 04/08/2015. Hear the podcast!

Examples of travail in a Sentence

  1. They finally succeeded after many months of travail.

  2. no greater travail than that of parents who have suffered the death of a child

Recent Examples of travail from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

Synonym Discussion of 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



verb tra·vail \ trə-ˈvāl , ˈtra-ˌvāl ; in prayer-book communion service usually ˈtra-ˌvāl \

Definition of travail

travailed; travailing; travails
1 : to labor hard : toil
2 : labor 3

Examples of travail in a Sentence

  1. Labor Day is the day on which we recognize those men and women who daily travail with little appreciation or compensation.

First Known Use of travail

13th century

in the meaning defined at sense 1

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TRAVAIL Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of travail for English Language Learners

  • : a difficult experience or situation

  • : painful or difficult work or effort

Medical Dictionary


noun tra·vail \ trə-ˈvā(ə)l , ˈtrav-ˌāl \

medical Definition of travail

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