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work definition


This page has 45 definitions of work in English. Work is a noun and verb. Examples of how to use work in a sentence are shown. Also define these 86 related words and terms: employment, labour, occupation, job, place, factory, works, effort, physics, energy, force, distance, move, usefully, goal, result, obstacle, literary, artistic, intellectual, production, fortification, professional wrestling, staging, mining, ore, dress, syringe, needle, swab, task, employ, physical, mental, power, in, at, workplace, as, job title, for, with, employee, instrument, client, effect, gradual, degree, embroider, thread, set, action, ferment, exhaust, scrap, shape, form, improve, material, operate, speciality, provoke, excite, influence, use, manipulate, advantage, happen, occur, consequence, function, correctly, act, intended, achieve, design, agitated, manner, behave, handle, poetic, cause, feel, do, hurt, and ache.

See also: -work


Alternative forms


Etymology 1

From Middle English work, werk, from Old English worc, weorc, ġeweorc, from Proto-Germanic *werką (work), from Proto-Indo-European *wérǵom; akin to Scots wark, Saterland Frisian Wierk, West Frisian wurk, Dutch werk, German Werk, German Low German Wark, Danish værk, Norwegian Bokmål verk, Norwegian Nynorsk verk, Swedish verk and yrke, Icelandic verk, Gothic 𐌲𐌰𐍅𐌰𐌿𐍂𐌺𐌹 (gawaurki), Ancient Greek ἔργον (érgon, work) (from ϝέργον (wérgon)), Avestan 𐬬𐬆𐬭𐬆𐬰(vərəz, to work, to perform), Armenian գործ (gorc, work), Albanian argëtoj (entertain, reward, please). English cognates include bulwark, boulevard, energy, erg, georgic, liturgy, metallurgy, organ, surgeon, wright. Doublet of ergon.


work (countable and uncountable, plural works)

  1. (heading, uncountable) Employment.
    1. Labour, occupation, job.
      Synonyms: see Thesaurus:occupation
      My work involves a lot of travel.
    2. The place where one is employed.
      He hasn’t come home yet; he’s still at work.
    3. (by extension) One's employer.
      I want to go to the reunion concert, but I'm not sure if my work will give me the time off.
    4. (dated) A factory; a works.
      • 1917, Platers' Guide (page 246)
        In trials of a Martin furnace in a steel work at Remscheiden, Germany, a lining of zirconia was found in good condition after []
    • Works definition
      plural of work in its countable senses
  2. (heading, uncountable) Effort.
    1. Effort expended on a particular task.
      Synonyms: see Thesaurus:work
      Holding a brick over your head is hard work. It takes a lot of work to write a dictionary.
    2. Sustained human effort to overcome obstacles and achieve a result.
      We know what we must do. Let's go to work.
    3. Something on which effort is expended.
      There's lots of work waiting for me at the office.
    4. (physics) A measure of energy expended in moving an object; most commonly, force times distance. No work is done if the object does not move.
      Work is done against friction to drag a bag along the ground.
    5. (physics, more generally) A measure of energy that is usefully extracted from a process.
      • 2013 July-August, Lee S. Langston, “The Adaptable Gas Turbine”, in American Scientist:
        Turbines have been around for a long time—windmills and water wheels are early examples. The name comes from the Latin turbo, meaning "vortex", and thus the defining property of a turbine is that a fluid or gas turns the blades of a rotor, which is attached to a shaft that can perform useful work.
    • Force definition
      Strength or energy of body or mind; active power; vigour; might; capacity of exercising an influence or producing an effect. (1 of 13 force definitions)
    • Usefully definition
      In a useful manner; in a way that achieves something
  3. Sustained effort to achieve a goal or result, especially overcoming obstacles.
    We don't have much time. Let's get to work piling up those sandbags.
    • Result definition
      To proceed, spring up or rise, as a consequence, from facts, arguments, premises, combination of circumstances, consultation, thought or endeavor. (1 of 4 result definitions)
  4. (heading) Product; the result of effort.
    1. (uncountable, often in combination) The result of a particular manner of production.
      There's a lot of guesswork involved.
    2. (uncountable, often in combination) Something produced using the specified material or tool.
      We've got some paperwork to do before we can get started. The piece was decorated with intricate filigree work.
    3. (countable) A literary, artistic, or intellectual production.
      It is a work of art.
      the poetic works of Alexander Pope
    4. (countable) A fortification.
      William the Conqueror fortified many castles, throwing up new ramparts, bastions and all manner of works.
  5. (uncountable, slang, professional wrestling) The staging of events to appear as real.
  6. (mining) Ore before it is dressed[1].
    • Mining definition
      The activity of removing solid valuables from the earth. (1 of 4 mining definitions)
    • Ore definition
      Rock or other material that contains valuable or utilitarian materials; primarily a rock containing metals or gems for which it is typically mined and processed.
  7. (slang, plural only) The equipment needed to inject a drug (syringes, needles, swabs etc.)
    Tell me you're using clean works at least.
    • 1953, William S. Burroughs, Junky[1], Penguin Books, published 1977, →ISBN, pages 25–26:
      He gave me a sour look. “All right is it? Well, you shoot some then.” I cooked up a grain and got out my works ready to take the shot.
    • 1996, Paul Harding Douglas; Laura Pinsky, The Essential AIDS Fact Book, Simon and Schuster, →ISBN, page 25:
      If you buy new works, clean them before using them. If you share works, clean them before you or the next person uses them. Blood may be in your works even if you can't see it. Clean your works either with rubbing alcohol (available in drugstores), a household bleach solution (three tablespoons of bleach in a cup of water), or boiling water.
Derived terms
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Dictionary:Entry layout § Translations.

See also

  • (product (combining form)): -ing

Etymology 2

From Middle English werken and worchen, from Old English wyrċan and wircan (Mercian), from Proto-Germanic *wurkijaną (to work), from Proto-Indo-European *werǵ- (to work). Cognate with Old Frisian werka, wirka, Old Saxon wirkian, Low German warken, Dutch werken, Old High German wurken (German wirken, werken and werkeln), Old Norse yrkja and orka, (Swedish yrka and orka), Gothic 𐍅𐌰𐌿𐍂𐌺𐌾𐌰𐌽 (waurkjan).


work (third-person singular simple present works, present participle working, simple past and past participle worked or (rare/archaic) wrought)

  1. (intransitive) To do a specific task by employing physical or mental powers.
    He’s working in a bar.
    1. Followed by in (or at, etc.) Said of one's workplace (building), or one's department, or one's trade (sphere of business).
      I work in a national park
      she works in the human resources department
      he mostly works in logging, but sometimes works in carpentry
    2. Followed by as. Said of one's job title
      • 1918, W. B. Maxwell, chapter 17, in The Mirror and the Lamp:
        This time was most dreadful for Lilian. Thrown on her own resources and almost penniless, she maintained herself and paid the rent of a wretched room near the hospital by working as a charwoman, sempstress, anything.
      I work as a cleaner.
    3. Followed by for. Said of a company or individual who employs.
      she works for Microsoft
      he works for the president
    4. Followed by with. General use, said of either fellow employees or instruments or clients.
      I work closely with my Canadian counterparts
      you work with computers
      she works with the homeless people from the suburbs
    • In definition
      Used to indicate location, inclusion, or position within spatial, temporal or other limits.
      1. Contained by. (1 of 19 in definitions)
    • Workplace definition
      The place where someone works.
  2. (transitive) To effect by gradual degrees.
    he worked his way through the crowd
    the dye worked its way through
    using some tweezers, she worked the bee sting out of her hand
    • 1712, Joseph Addison, Cato, a Tragedy
      So the pure, limpid stream, when foul with stains / Of rushing torrents and descending rains, / Works itself clear, and as it runs, refines, / Till by degrees the floating mirror shines.
    • Gradual definition
      Proceeding or advancing by small, slow, regular steps or degrees
  3. (transitive) To embroider with thread.
    • Thread definition
      A long, thin and flexible form of material, generally with a round cross-section, used in sewing, weaving or in the construction of string. (1 of 9 thread definitions)
  4. (transitive) To set into action.
    He worked the levers.
  5. (transitive) To cause to ferment.
  6. (intransitive) To ferment.
    • 1612, Francis Bacon, Essay on Natural History
      the working of beer when the barm is put in
  7. (transitive) To exhaust, by working.
    The mine was worked until the last scrap of ore had been extracted.
    • 1774, Edward Long, The History of Jamaica. Or, General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of that Island, volume 2, chapter 11, 240:
      They were told of a ſilver mine, that had been worked by the Spaniards, ſomewhere in the Healthſhire Hills, in St. Catharine; but they were not able to diſcover it.
    • Exhaust definition
      To draw or let out wholly; to drain off completely (1 of 7 exhaust definitions)
  8. (transitive) To shape, form, or improve a material.
    He used pliers to work the wire into shape.
    • Form definition
      To do with shape.
      1. The shape or visible structure of a thing or person.
      2. A thing that gives shape to other things as in a mold.
      3. Regularity, beauty, or elegance.
      4. The inherent nature of an object; that which the mind itself contributes as the condition of knowing; that in which the essence of a thing consists.
      5. Characteristics not involving atomic components. (Can we add an example for this sense?)
      6. A long bench with no back.
      7. The boundary line of a material object. In painting, more generally, the human body.
      8. The combination of planes included under a general crystallographic symbol. It is not necessarily a closed solid.
      (1 of 27 form definitions)
  9. (transitive) To operate in a certain place, area, or speciality.
    she works the night clubs
    the salesman works the Midwest
    this artist works mostly in acrylics
  10. (transitive) To operate in or through; as, to work the phones.
  11. (transitive) To provoke or excite; to influence.
    The rock musician worked the crowd of young girls into a frenzy.
  12. (transitive) To use or manipulate to one’s advantage.
    She knows how to work the system.
  13. (transitive) To cause to happen or to occur as a consequence.
    I cannot work a miracle.
    • Consequence definition
      That which follows something on which it depends; that which is produced by a cause. (1 of 7 consequence definitions)
  14. (transitive) To cause to work.
    He is working his servants hard.
  15. (intransitive) To function correctly; to act as intended; to achieve the goal designed for.
    • 2013 June 21, Oliver Burkeman, “The tao of tech”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 2, page 48:
      The dirty secret of the internet is that all this distraction and interruption is immensely profitable. Web companies like to boast about [] and so on. But the real way to build a successful online business is to be better than your rivals at undermining people's control of their own attention. Partly, this is a result of how online advertising has traditionally worked: advertisers pay for clicks, and a click is a click, however it's obtained.
    he pointed at the car and asked, "Does it work"?;  he looked at the bottle of pain pills, wondering if they would work;  my plan didn’t work
    • Correctly definition
      In a correct manner.
    • Design definition
      A specification of an object or process, referring to requirements to be satisfied and thus conditions to be met for them to solve a problem. (1 of 8 design definitions)
  16. (intransitive, figuratively) To influence.
    They worked on her to join the group.
  17. (intransitive) To effect by gradual degrees; as, to work into the earth.
  18. (intransitive) To move in an agitated manner.
    His fingers worked with tension.
    A ship works in a heavy sea.
    • 1705, Joseph Addison, Remarks on several parts of Italy, &c., in the years 1701, 1702, 1703
      confused with working sands and rolling waves
    • Agitated definition
      simple past tense and past participle of agitate
  19. (intransitive) To behave in a certain way when handled
    this dough does not work easily;  the soft metal works well
    • Behave definition
      To conduct (oneself) well, or in a given way. (1 of 4 behave definitions)
    • Handle definition
      The part of an object which is (designed to be) held in the hand when used or moved. (1 of 12 handle definitions)
  20. (transitive, with two objects, poetic) To cause (someone) to feel (something); to do unto somebody (something, whether good or bad).
    • 1885, Richard F. Burton, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night:
      And indeed I blamed myself and sore repented me of having taken compassion on him and continued in this condition, suffering fatigue not to be described, till I said to myself, "I wrought him a weal and he requited me with my ill; by Allah, never more will I do any man a service so long as I live!"
    • 1909, Robert W[illiam] Service, “The Ballad of One-eyed Mike”, in Ballads of a Cheechako, Toronto, Ont.: William Briggs, OCLC 2068144, stanza 12, pages 54–55:
      So sad it seemed, and its cheek-bones gleamed, and its fingers flicked the shore; / And it lapped and lay in a weary way, and its hands met to implore; / That I gently said: "Poor, restless dead, I would never work you woe; / Though the wrong you rue you can ne'er undo, I forgave you long ago."
    • Feel definition
      To use or experience the sense of touch.
      1. To become aware of through the skin; to use the sense of touch on. (1 of 14 feel definitions)
  21. (obsolete, intransitive) To hurt; to ache.
    • Ache definition
      To suffer pain; to be the source of, or be in, pain, especially continued dull pain; to be distressed. (1 of 2 ache definitions)
Derived terms
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Dictionary:Entry layout § Translations.

Further reading

  • "work" in Raymond Williams, Keywords (revised), 1983, Fontana Press, page 334.


  1. ^ 1881, Rossiter W. Raymond, A Glossary of Mining and Metallurgical Terms