a. Physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something: Cleaning the basement was a lot of work.
b. Such effort or activity by which one makes a living; employment: looking for work.
c. A trade, profession, or other means of livelihood: His work is fixing cars.
a. The part of a day devoted to an occupation or undertaking: met her after work.
b. One's place of employment: Should I call you at home or at work?
a. Something that one is doing, making, or performing, especially as an occupation or undertaking; a duty or task: begin the day's work.
b. An amount of such activity either done or required: a week's work.
c. The action or effect of an agency: The antibiotic seems to be doing its work.
a. Something that has been produced or accomplished through the effort, activity, or agency of a person or thing: This scheme was the work of a criminal mastermind. Erosion is the work of wind, water, and time.
b. An act; a deed: "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
c. An artistic creation, such as a painting, sculpture, or literary or musical composition, or a creative result of other human activity: an early work of Matisse; a scholarly work of great importance.
d. works The output of a writer, artist, or composer considered or collected as a whole: the works of Bach.
a. works Engineering structures, such as bridges or dams.
b. A fortified structure, such as a trench or fortress.
a. Needlework, weaving, lacemaking, or a similar textile art.
b. A piece of such textile art.
7. A material or piece of material being processed in a machine during manufacture: work to be turned in the lathe.
8. works (used with a sing. or pl. verb) A factory, plant, or similar building or complex of buildings where a specific type of business or industry is carried on. Often used in combination: a steelworks.
9. works Internal mechanism: the works of a watch.
10. The manner, style, or quality of working or treatment; workmanship.
11. Abbr. w Physics The transfer of energy from one physical system to another, especially the application of a force to move a body in a certain direction. It is calculated as the product of the force and the distance over which it is applied and is expressed in joules, ergs, and foot-pounds.
12. works Moral or righteous acts or deeds: salvation by faith rather than works.
a. Informal The full range of possibilities; everything. Used with the: ordered a pizza with the works.
b. Slang A thorough beating or other severe treatment. Used with the: took him outside and gave him the works.
Of, relating to, designed for, or engaged in work.
v. worked also wrought (rôt), work·ing, works
1. To exert oneself physically or mentally in order to do, make, or accomplish something.
2. To be employed; have a job.
a. To function; operate: How does this latch work?
b. To function or operate in the desired or required way: The telephone hasn't worked since the thunderstorm.
a. To have a given effect or outcome: Our friendship works best when we speak our minds.
b. To have the desired effect or outcome; prove successful: This recipe seems to work.
5. To exert an influence. Used with on or upon: worked on her to join the group.
6. To arrive at a specified condition through gradual or repeated movement: The stitches worked loose.
7. To proceed or progress slowly and laboriously: worked through the underbrush; worked through my problems in therapy.
8. To move in an agitated manner, as with emotion: Her mouth worked with fear.
9. To behave in a specified way when handled or processed: Not all metals work easily.
10. To ferment.
a. To strain in heavy seas so that the joints give slightly and the fastenings become slack. Used of a boat or ship.
b. To sail against the wind.
12. To undergo small motions that result in friction and wear: The gears work against each other.
1. To cause or effect; bring about: working miracles.
2. To cause to operate or function; actuate, use, or manage: worked the controls; can work a lathe.
3. To shape or forge: "Each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor" (Edgar Allan Poe).
4. To make or decorate by needlework: work a sampler.
5. To solve (a problem) by calculation and reasoning.
6. To knead, stir, or otherwise manipulate in preparation: Work the dough before shaping it.
7. To bring to a specified condition by gradual or repeated effort or work: finally worked the window open; worked the slaves to death.
8. To make, achieve, or pay for by work or effort: worked her way to the top; worked his passage on the ship.
9. Informal To arrange or contrive. Often used with it: worked it so that her weekends are free.
10. To make productive; cultivate: work a farm.
11. To cause to work: works his laborers hard.
12. To excite or provoke: worked the mob into a frenzy.
a. To gratify, cajole, or enchant artfully, especially for the purpose of influencing: The politician worked the crowd. The comedian worked the room with flawless rhythm.
b. To use or manipulate to one's own advantage; exploit: learned how to work the system; worked his relatives for sympathy.
14. To carry on an operation or function in or through: the agent who works that area; working the phones for donations.
15. To ferment (liquor, for example).
1. To insert or introduce: worked in a request for money.
2. To make an opening for, as in a schedule: said the doctor would try to work her in.
3. To cause to be inserted by repeated or continuous effort.
1. To insert or introduce into: worked some childhood memories into his novel.
2. To make an opening for (someone or something) in: worked a few field trips into the semester's calendar.
3. To place or insert in by repeated or continuous effort: worked the pick into the lock.
To get rid of by work or effort: work off extra pounds; work off a debt.
1. To accomplish by work or effort: worked out a compromise.
2. To find a solution for; solve: worked out the equations; worked out their personal differences.
3. To formulate or develop: work out a plan.
4. To discharge (an obligation or debt) with labor in place of money.
5. To prove successful, effective, or satisfactory: The new strategy may not work out.
6. To have a specified result: The ratio works out to an odd number. It worked out that everyone left on the same train.
7. To engage in strenuous exercise for physical conditioning.
8. To exhaust (a mine, for example).
1. To do for a second time; rework.
2. Slang To inflict severe physical damage on; beat up.
1. To arouse the emotions of; excite.
a. To increase one's skill, responsibility, efficiency, or status through work: worked up to 30 sit-ups a day; worked up to store manager.
b. To intensify gradually: The film works up to a thrilling climax.
3. To develop or produce by mental or physical effort: worked up a patient profile; worked up an appetite.
1. Engaged in labor; working: at work on a new project.
2. In operation: inflationary forces at work in the economy.
in the works
In preparation; under development: has a novel in the works.
out of work
Without a job; unemployed.
put in work
To perform labor or duties, as on a specified project: put in work on the plastering.
work both sides of the street
To engage in double-dealing; be duplicitous.
work like a charm
To function very well or have a very good effect or outcome.
work (one's) fingers to the bone
To labor extremely hard; toil or travail.
[Middle English, from Old English weorc; see werg- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: work, labor, toil1, drudgery, travail
These nouns refer to physical or mental effort expended to produce or accomplish something. Work is the most widely applicable: hard work in the fields; did some work around the house on weekends; a first draft that still needs work.
Labor usually implies human work, especially of a hard physical or intellectual nature: a construction job that involves heavy labor. "All scholarly work builds on the cumulative labors of others" (Jerome Karabel).
Toil applies principally to strenuous, fatiguing labor: "a spirited woman of intellect condemned to farmhouse toil" (Cynthia Ozick).
Drudgery suggests dull, wearisome, or monotonous work: "the drudgery of penning definitions and marking quotations for transcription" (Thomas Macaulay).
Travail connotes arduous work involving pain or suffering: "prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth" (Henry Beston).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.