tra·​vail | \trə-ˈvāl, 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, 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


They finally succeeded after many months of travail. no greater travail than that of parents who have suffered the death of a child


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

Glencore’s travails may be the result of Mr Kabila—who has overstayed his second, and supposedly final, term in office—squeezing mining firms for cash to stay in power. The Economist, "Glencore, a hard-slugging mining giant, meets its match in Congo," 3 May 2018 Get our daily newsletter Bytedance’s travails, and those of three other firms that also had to suspend their news-aggregating apps, suggest that censors are trying to catch up with new technology. The Economist, "China wages war on apps offering news and jokes," 19 Apr. 2018 Most Americans are not affected by the travails of the individual market. Reed Abelson, New York Times, "Obamacare Is Proving Hard to Kill," 3 July 2018 And the increase in suicides in Massachusetts has been blamed on the travails of middle-aged men, who account for the largest number of suicide deaths., "Suicide rates rise sharply across the US, new report shows," 8 June 2018 Ironic, low-boil events ensue involving Marlina’s twisty bus trip to the police station, the travails of Marlina’s pregnant neighbor (Dea Panendra), misogynistic men and Marlina’s pivot to impromptu midwife. Gary Goldstein,, "Review: Episodic Indonesian thriller 'Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts' simmers and bedevils," 5 July 2018 At times, experiences on these airlines can remind one of the fact that the word travel comes from the French word travail, and the Latin word tripalium, which was a three-pronged instrument of torture in Roman times. Dave Seminara, New York Times, "Sizing Up the Bargain Potential of One-Way Airfares," 27 June 2018 But where others saw Uber’s travails as a symbol of Silicon Valley comeuppance, Khosrowshahi saw something less loaded: a sophisticated tech company that had taken on too much, too quickly, and whose systems groaned under the weight and confusion. Jessi Hempel, WIRED, "Uber's New Direction: Move Slow and Test Things," 19 Apr. 2018 The prime minister’s travails just six months after leading the LDP to a landslide win are casting doubt on a policy agenda that has over the past five years bolstered Japan’s military and attracted investors with a weaker yen. Isabel Reynolds,, "Japan Wonders If Abe Can Bounce Back Again After Scandals Pile Up," 16 Apr. 2018

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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Last Updated

7 Dec 2018

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

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More Definitions for travail



English Language Learners Definition of travail

: a difficult experience or situation

: painful or difficult work or effort


tra·​vail | \trə-ˈvā(ə)l, ˈtrav-ˌāl \

Medical Definition of travail 

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with travail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for travail

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