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tra·​vail trə-ˈvāl How to pronounce travail (audio)
: work especially of a painful or laborious nature : toil
: a physical or mental exertion or piece of work : task, effort


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

intransitive verb

: to labor hard : toil

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, along with another descendant of travailler, travel.

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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web
After years of dealing with her children's ridiculous romantic travails—including her daughter Daphne not understanding how babies are made for far too long—Violet is finally getting her own storyline. Eliana Dockterman, TIME, 15 May 2024 But the deadly events on the Patapsco River in the dark of night have shined a light on the travails of the global shipping industry, including a long-standing problem with dirty fuel. Praveena Somasundaram, Washington Post, 28 Mar. 2024 With their comic Minor Threats, actor and comedian Patton Oswalt and TV writer Jordan Blum found unexpected success with their title focused on the travails of underappreciated and overlooked D-list villains. Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Mar. 2024 On So Medieval, one-liner maestro Arthur Nolan and the shambolic band rip through silly, catchy, sometimes absurd anthems, reckoning with the travails of a music career while fending off online trolls or blagging free flights by pretending someone died. Madison Bloom, Pitchfork, 19 Mar. 2024 But longtime allies who had stood by him through his earlier travails concluded that this case was different and cut their ties to him. Tracey Tully, New York Times, 21 Mar. 2024 The omnipresence of Trump’s legal travails and his dominance in the Republican presidential primary ensure his shadow over the 2024 election will remain through November, and only increase Rep. Adam B. Schiff ‘s already heady chances of becoming California’s newest U.S. senator. Benjamin Oreskes, Los Angeles Times, 7 Mar. 2024 Two decades of war in the Middle East combined with domestic travails have sapped American public support for foreign engagements. Max Bergmann, Foreign Affairs, 6 Mar. 2024 Thoma Bravo and Vista are frequent rivals in deals but Smith’s travails in 2021 benefited Bravo, a second LP said. Luisa Beltran, Fortune, 28 Feb. 2024
Clap back:DeSantis criticizes 'daily drama' of Trump's leadership style, ratcheting up growing tensions Trump travails:Is Donald Trump being arrested? David Jackson, USA TODAY, 23 Mar. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'travail.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



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

First Known Use


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


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near travail

Cite this Entry

“Travail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: work especially of a painful or difficult nature : toil
travail verb


Middle English travail "hard labor," from early French travail (same meaning), from travailler (verb) "to torment, labor" — related to travel see Word History at travel

Medical Definition


Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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