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See also: -work


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Alternative forms


Etymology 1

From Middle English work, werk, from Old English weorc, from Proto-West Germanic *werk, from Proto-Germanic *werką, 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 erg and ergon.


work (countable and uncountable, plural works)

  1. (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 []
  2. (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 effort to overcome obstacles and achieve a result.
      We know what we must do. Let's go to work.
      We don't have much time. Let's get to work piling up those sandbags.
    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.
  3. 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.
  4. (uncountable, slang, professional wrestling) The staging of events to appear as real.
  5. (mining) Ore before it is dressed.
  6. (slang, plural only) The equipment needed to inject a drug (syringes, needles, swabs etc.)
    Tell me you're using clean works at least.
    • 1977 [1953], William S. Burroughs, edited by Allen Ginsberg, Junky, Penguin Books, →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 with 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.
    • 2009, Gillian G. Gaar, The Rough Guide to Nirvana, Rough Guides UK, →ISBN:
      While in San Francisco, where the AIDS crisis was particularly devastating, they saw numerous public awareness signs reading “Bleach Your Works” posted around the city, urging IV drug users to clean their needles with bleach to help staunch the spread of the disease.
Derived terms
  • Pijin: waka
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary: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 *wr̥ǵyéti (to be working, to be at work), from the root *werǵ-. 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)

A farmer working in a potato field
  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 too.
    2. Followed by as. Said of one's job title
      • 1918, W[illiam] B[abington] Maxwell, chapter XXXVII, in The Mirror and the Lamp, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, →OCLC, page 287:
        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, right?
      She works with the homeless people from the suburbs.
  2. (intransitive) To effect by gradual degrees;
    to work into the earth
  3. (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 (date written), [Joseph] Addison, Cato, a Tragedy. , London: J Tonson, , published 1713, →OCLC, Act I, scene iv, page 16:
      So the pure limpid Stream, when foul with Stains / Of ruſhing Torrents, and deſcending Rains, / Work’s it ſelf clear, and as it runs, refines; / ’Till by Degrees, the floating Mirrour ſhines, / []
  4. (transitive) To embroider with thread.
  5. (transitive) To set into action.
    He worked the levers.
  6. (transitive) To cause to ferment.
  7. (intransitive) To ferment.
    • 1631, Francis [Bacon], “X. Century.”, in Sylua Syluarum: Or A Naturall Historie. In Ten Centuries. , 3rd edition, London: William Rawley; rinted by J H for William Lee , paragraph 992, page 255, →OCLC:
      For Inanimate Things, you may trie the Force of Imagination, vpon Staying the Working of Beere, when the Barme is put in; Or vpon the Comming of Butter, or Cheeſe, after the Cherming, or the Rennet bee put in.
  8. (transitive) To exhaust, by working.
    The mine was worked until the last scrap of ore had been extracted.
    • 1774, Edward Long, chapter 11, in The History of Jamaica. Or, General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of that Island, volume 2, page 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.
  9. (transitive) To shape, form, or improve a material.
    He used pliers to work the wire into shape.
  10. (transitive) To operate in a certain place, area, or speciality.
    She works the night clubs.
    The salesman works the Midwest.
  11. (transitive) To operate in or through; as, to work the phones.
  12. (transitive) To provoke or excite; to influence.
    The rock musician worked the crowd of young girls into a frenzy.
  13. (transitive) To use or manipulate to one’s advantage.
    She knows how to work the system.
  14. (transitive, law) To cause to happen or to occur as a consequence.
    I cannot work a miracle.
    • 2022, Sawnee Electric Membership Corporation Bylaws, Article III, Section 3.01:
      Failure to hold the annual meeting, or to otherwise conduct the business of the annual meeting, shall not work a forfeiture or dissolution of the Cooperative.
  15. (transitive) To cause to work.
    He is working his servants hard.
  16. (intransitive) To function correctly; to act as intended; to achieve the goal designed for.
    • 2013 June 21, Oliver Burkeman, “The tao of tech”, in Alan Rusbridger, editor, The Guardian, volume 189, number 2, London: Guardian News & Media, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 2023-06-08, page 48:
      The dirty secret of the internet is that all this distraction and interruption is immensely profitable. Web companies like to boast about "creating compelling content", or offering services that let you "stay up to date with what your friends are doing", "share the things you love with the world" 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.
  17. (intransitive, figuratively) To influence.
    They worked on her to join the group.
  18. (intransitive) To move in an agitated manner.
    His fingers worked with tension.
    A ship works in a heavy sea.
    • 1705, J[oseph] Addison, “Brescia, Verona, Padua”, in Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, &c. in the Years 1701, 1702, 1703, London: Jacob Tonson, , →OCLC, page 54:
      Here vex’d with Winter Storms Benacus raves, / Confus’d with working Sands and rolling Waves; / Rough and tumultuous like a Sea it lyes, / So loud the Tempeſt roars, ſo high the Billows riſe.
  19. (intransitive) To behave in a certain way when handled
    This dough does not work easily.
    The soft metal works well.
  20. (ditransitive, poetic) To cause (someone) to feel (something); to do unto somebody (something, whether good or bad).
  21. (obsolete, intransitive) To hurt; to ache.
  22. (slang, transitive) To pull off; to wear, perform, etc. successfully or to advantage.
    I would have never thought those pieces would go together, but she is working it like nobody's business.
Derived terms
other terms derived from the work (verb)
  • Cantonese: work (adjective)
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

Further reading

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


  1. ^ Rossiter W Raymond (1881), “Work”, in A Glossary of Mining and Metallurgical Terms. , Easton, Pa.: Institute , , →OCLC.



From English work (verb).



work (Hong Kong Cantonese)

  1. working as intended; functioning
  2. effective


work (Hong Kong Cantonese)

  1. to work as intended; to function