Labor or Labour – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ August 16, 2017/ Uncategorized

labor vs labour

What’s the Difference Between Labor and Labour?

These two words are alternate spellings with the same meaning. Labor is the preferred American spelling, whereas labour is the preferred British spelling. They both mean the noun and verb form of work. They can also both refer to a woman giving birth.

  • After a lot of labor, the man was finally finished with his project. (American spelling)
  • The cost of labour is rising to the point where companies must pay their employees more. (British spelling)

The most common error with these two spellings is using the wrong spelling for your audience. Both spellings are correct in their own right, but you will still want to choose wisely on which to use. The correct spelling depends on where you live, or which country most of your readers are from.

Now, let’s go over a few ways you can use these words in your sentences.

Using Labor in a Sentence

When to use labor: Labor is a noun or verb that means work. A second definition is the process of giving birth. Labor—without the letter u—is the American spelling. While labor often has the connotation of physical work, it doesn’t always necessarily mean this.

For example,

  • Many Americans believe that to be successful, you must labor long and hard.
  • Laboring in the fields in the hot sun was very hard for the farmers in California.

There are also several expressions with labor:

  • a labor of love: work that a person does for personal satisfaction rather than economic benefit
    • She started an organization to help the homeless. This was a labor of love for her. In fact, she often had to spend her own personal money.
  • the fruit of one’s labor: the results of one’s hard work
    • Marie Curie’s research on radiation caused her to become sick and die. However, her life was not in vain. The fruits of her labor included important new knowledge about physics as well as newly opened doors for women in science.
  • labor of Hercules: a gigantic task
    • The student was intimidated by writing his thesis paper. He thought it was a labor of Hercules.

The American spelling is different from the British spelling because America became independent from Britain before spelling rules were completely standardized.

Americans intentionally altered some spellings to show linguistic and cultural differences between America and Britain. They believed their changes made the spelling more intuitive and efficient.

Using Labour in a Sentence

When to use labour: Labour has the same meaning as labor, which is work and to give birth. The only difference is the spelling, and the fact that this spelling is used in Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations.

For example,

  • The artist laboured for hours over her painting. (verb)
  • The woman was in labour for 18 hours. (giving birth meaning)

The idioms with labour are all the same as with labor.

Interestingly, labour is the original spelling in English. However, before it was an English word it was a Latin word, which is spelled without a u.

Remembering Labor vs. Labour

There are a couple different ways to remember which word is which.

Labor is the shorter word, and it is used mostly only in America. Labour is the longer word, and it is used in many more countries, the United Kingdom and all the countries in the Commonwealth of Nations. Remembering that the shorter word length relates to fewer countries, and the longer word length relates to more countries can help you keep the two spellings straight.

Additionally, labor omits the u, which isn’t necessary for the pronunciation of the word. The United States, as a newer country than Great Britain, believed this was a new and improved spelling.

Outside Examples

  • Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor last year for allegedly stealing a political poster from a hotel in Pyongyang. –New York Post
  • The bulk of the cost — $6,369 — covered labor, including a wide array of routine maintenance that had fallen out of date. –USA Today
  • Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking in London, linked Britain’s actions overseas to the increased extremist threat at home. –LA Times
  • The government and the BOJ have been upgrading their economic assessments recently as private consumption, capital expenditure, a tight labour market, and growing exports point to solid economic growth. –New York Daily News

Quiz: Labor vs. Labour

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either labour or labor.

  • He stayed at a job he hated for years because he believed his _____________ would be rewarded. (This sentence comes from the United States.)
  • The doctors had to induce ____________ for the mother from Manchester. (This sentence comes from England.)
  • The _____________ Party in the United Kingdom is more liberal than conservative.

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use labor or labour? These words are the same except for the spelling. Choose which one to use based on where you are writing, or for whom you are writing.

  • Labor means work and is the American spelling.
  • Labour means work and is the British spelling.

Both are correct, but it is best to follow the standards of the country in which you are writing.

Answers from Quiz 

  • labor
  • labour
  • Labour