Meaning of “work” in the English Dictionary

"work" in British English

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uk /wɜːk/ us /wɝːk/

work noun (ACTIVITY)

A1 [ U ] an activity, such as a job, that a person uses physical or mental effort to do, usually for money:

I've got so much work to do.
Carrying heavy loads around all day is hard work.
What time do you start/finish work?
Aileen does most of the work around the house.
What sort of work are you experienced in?
She tends to wear quite dressy clothes for work.
Roger's work involves a lot of travelling.

A2 [ U ] the material used by someone at work, or what they produce:

I'll have to take this work home with me and finish it there.
All the furniture is the work of residents here.

More examples

  • In common with many mothers, she feels torn between her family and her work.
  • You need to have agile fingers to do this kind of work.
  • We had a disagreement over the fee for the work.
  • We've finished decorating upstairs but the downstairs still needs some work.
  • They pay me next to nothing but I really enjoy the work.

work noun (PLACE)

A1 [ U ] a place where a person goes specially to do their job:

Do you have far to travel to work each day?
Thousands of people are seriously injured at work every year.
When does she leave for work?

More examples

  • It's at least an hour's commute to work.
  • I like the convenience of living so near work.
  • She had a crash on the way to work.
  • I've been getting a lot of aggravation at work recently.
  • We back up our computer files at work on a daily basis.

work noun (CREATION)

B2 [ C ] something created as a result of effort, especially a painting, book, or piece of music:

The museum has many works by Picasso as well as other modern painters.
the poetic works of Tagore

More examples

  • This novel is his best work to date.
  • The mature works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert belong to the Classical period.
  • The museum's collection includes works of art from all around the world.
  • The exhibition juxtaposes Picasso's early drawings with some of his later works.
  • In a coda to the main exhibition are various works which were once attributed to Rembrandt.

work noun (SURGERY)

[ U ] informal surgery (= a medical operation) that is done to improve someone's appearance:

She denies having had any cosmetic surgery, but I think she's definitely had some work done.


uk /wɜːk/ us /wɝːk/

work verb (HAVE EFFECT)

B1 [ I usually + adv/prep ] to be effective or successful:

Her idea for reorganizing the department will never work in practice.
The tablets will start to work in a few minutes.
Some people think I'm weird doing meditation, but it works for me and that's all that matters.
Arguably, the monarchy worked well for many centuries.

More examples

  • The argument that sanctions should be given more time to work is seductive but fatally flawed.
  • In conclusion, I submit that the proposal will not work without some major changes.
  • The opposition claimed that the government's education policy was not working.
  • My new diet seems to be working. I've lost weight already.
  • These tactics worked well in the last match.

work verb (DO JOB)

A1 [ I or T ] to do a job, especially the job you do to earn money, or to make someone do a job:

He works at the hospital.
She worked as a cleaner at the hospital.
Mike works for a computer company.
It's not unusual for a junior doctor to work a 70 or sometimes an 80-hour week.
Have you any experience of working with children who have learning difficulties?
The instructors worked us very hard on the survival course.
See also

More examples

  • He works for a company that makes software.
  • She works three afternoons a week at the library.
  • She has worked as an estate agent among other things.
  • I worked as an artist's model when I was a student.
  • I'm working late this evening.

work verb (OPERATE)

A2 [ I or T ] If a machine or device works, it operates, especially correctly and without failure, and if you work it, you make it operate:

Our phone isn't working.
You need a team of about twelve people to work a furnace this size.
The pump works off/on (= uses) wind power.
The pump is worked by (= uses to operate) wind power.
I can't get the radio to work.

More examples

  • You're welcome to it - I can never get it to work properly.
  • Dust particles must have got into the motor, which is why it isn't working properly.
  • How do you work this machine?
  • It's a common-or-garden washing machine with just the basic functions, but it works perfectly well.
  • The machine works according to the principle of electromagnetic conduction.


[ I or T, + adv/prep ] to succeed gradually in becoming something or cause a person or thing to become something, either by making an effort or by making many small movements:

He started as a technician and worked his way up through the company to become managing director.
Eventually she worked her way through (= read) the huge amount of technical papers.
Vibration tends to make nuts and screws work themselves loose.
The screws had worked loose over time.

More examples

  • Sidney ruthlessly worked his way up from the position of junior clerk to chairman of the company.
  • She is now a senior executive having worked her way up through the company.
  • The splinter had worked its way under his skin.
  • It will take all weekend to work through this pile of marking.
  • She plans to work her way to the top.


uk / -wɜːk/ us / -wɝːk/

(Definition of “work” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"work" in American English

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us /wɜrk/

work verb (DO A JOB)

[ I/T ] to do a job, esp. a job you do to earn money:

[ T ] She works long hours.
[ T ] Richie worked the night shift.
[ I ] Designers worked with the director.
[ I ] Mike works for a computer company.
[ I ] Medics were working on him for an hour.
[ I ] She worked on the project with Luce.
[ I ] Anna works well with others.
[ I ] I have to work on Saturday.


[ I/T ] to perform as intended or desired, or to cause something to do what it was intended to do:

[ I ] The medicine ought to work right away.
[ I ] Our plan worked perfectly.
[ T ] I don’t know how to work this computer.
[ T ] He knows how to work the system (= get what he wants from it).

work verb (HAVE EFFECT)

[ I always + adv/prep ] (of a condition or fact) to have an effect, esp. one that either helps or causes difficulties:

Time was working against us.
Jimmie has a lot working in his favor.

work verb (MAKE OBJECT)

[ T ] to shape something with your hands:

She carefully works the clay.


us /wɜrk/

work noun (FORCE)

physics [ U ] force used on an object multiplied by the distance it moves the object, measured in joules

work noun (PLACE)

[ U ] the place where a person regularly goes to do his or her job:

I had to leave work early.
Does it take long to commute to work?

work noun (OBJECT)

[ C ] an object produced as a result of effort, esp. something intended to be art:

The museum is showing works by 20th-century artists.

work noun (DO A JOB)

[ U ] the use of effort to do or make something that has value, and for which you are usually paid:

Steve’s out of work again (= not employed).

(Definition of “work” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

"work" in Business English

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uk /wɜːk/ us

[ I or T ] HR, WORKPLACE to do a job, especially to earn money:

Do you work?
He works as a computer technician.
My brother works for a large American corporation.
How many people work at your company?
work an eight-hour day/hard/long hours
work in a bank/factory/an office

[ I ] to spend time and effort doing something:

We were working on the presentation all night.
The two countries worked together on developing the technology.
Multinationals will have to work with governments to achieve the best balance between openness and security.

[ I ] to try hard to achieve or improve something:

work at/on sth You need to work on your communication skills.
I'm not very confident on the phone, but I'm prepared to work at it.
be working towards sth Our firm is working towards being a paperless environment.

[ I ] to be effective or successful:

The plan seemed to work well.
The current system isn't working, so we'll need to look at an alternative.

[ I ] WORKPLACE, IT if a machine or piece of equipment works, it operates as expected:

My computer isn't working.
I can't get this printer to work.

[ T ] informal WORKPLACE, IT to operate a machine or piece of equipment:

He doesn't even know how to work a photocopier.

[ T ] COMMERCE to go around a particular area that you are responsible for, especially in a sales job:

His sales were better when he was working the London area.

[ I ] to have a good or bad effect:

The terms they're offering don't work for us.
His poor command of English worked against him in the interview.
Her previous sales experience worked in her favour.

[ T ] to change the shape of a material to make something else with it:

work leather/metal
work a mine

NATURAL RESOURCES to dig for coal, minerals, etc.:

These men have been working the mines all their lives.
work sb hard

to make someone use a lot of effort:

He works his trainees really hard.
work it so (that) informal

to arrange for something to happen in a way that is useful for you:

I'm going to try and work it so I can spend the weekend in New York after the conference.
work the land formal

to prepare the soil to grow crops on it:

We're here to thank those who work the land to feed us.
work the system

to know how to deal with a system or organization to get the result you want:

People who know how to work the system can significantly reduce their tax bill.
work things out

to deal with a situation successfully, especially when there is a problem:

I'll try to work things out with our suppliers.
work your way up sth also work your way up to sth

to do a series of jobs at different levels in an organization until you reach a position at the top of the organization:

She joined the company as a sales rep but worked her way up to managing director.
work your way up the ladder/hierarchy/ranks I'd like to stay here and work my way up the audit career ladder.

worknoun [ U ]

uk /wɜːk/ us

HR the job that someone does, usually to earn money:

full-time/part-time work Many pensioners will have to consider part-time work to supplement their retirement plans.
find/get/look for work The government's initiative helps the unemployed find work.
He's been out of work for six months now.
badly paid/well-paid work
give up/go back to/return to work

WORKPLACE a place, such as an office, a factory, etc., where someone goes to do their job:

The Managing Director always arrived at work early and stayed late.
She claimed her stress was the result of the bank's hostile work environment.
be at/go to/leave work What time do you go to work in the morning?

WORKPLACE the responsibilities that are part of your job:

start/finish/stop work I don't finish work until 6.30 pm.
I need to take / some time off work to look after my son.
Analysts refer to various sources of information to help them make investment decisions in their day-to-day work.
The government launched an inquiry into the work of the Monetary Policy Committee.
do/enjoy/hate your work

WORKPLACE the tasks that need to be completed:

do/produce/take on work The department can't take on any more work until this project is finished.
I always end up taking work home at the weekend.

the mental or physical effort involved in doing or achieving something:

The builders started work on the new offices last week.
carry out/put in work The whole team put in a lot of hard work to win the contract.
We need to set to work on reviewing our claims system.
The finance department has been hard at work on its year-end report.
Management still has a lot of work to do to ensure the company's future.
The committee's report was a very good piece of work.
good/hard work

[ plural ] UK the activity of building or repairing something:

engineering/repair works The road was closed for essential repair works.

[ C ] PRODUCTION an industrial building where materials or goods are manufactured:

Residents protested about the waste produced by the nearby industrial works.
a chemical/gas/steel works
the works close down/open
have your work cut out for you informal

to have something very difficult to do:

The government has its work cut out for it trying to reduce the national deficit.
in the works

in the process of being planned or discussed:

Protesters claim the proposed cuts had been in the works for months.

(Definition of “work” from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)