Meaning of WORK in English


I. work 1 S1 W1 /wɜːk $ wɜːrk/ BrE AmE verb

[ Word Family: noun : ↑ work , ↑ workaholic , ↑ worker , ↑ working , WORKINGS ; adjective : ↑ workable ≠ ↑ unworkable , ↑ overworked , ↑ working ; verb : ↑ work , ↑ rework ]

[ Language: Old English ; Origin: wyrcan ]

1 . DO A JOB FOR MONEY [intransitive] to do a job that you are paid for:

Where do you work?

Many young people in the area have never worked.

The injury means he’ll probably never work again.

work for

He works for a law firm.

work at/in

I work at the university.

work as

She works as a consultant for a design company.

work in industry/education/publishing etc

The studies were undertaken by people working in education.

work part-time/full-time

I work part-time in a library.

2 . DO YOUR JOB [intransitive and transitive] to do the activities and duties that are part of your job:

Sally isn’t working tomorrow.

Staff will have to get used to a new way of working.

work with

One of the women I work with is getting married this weekend.

work under somebody (=have someone who is in charge of you)

Each site has a fully trained team who work under a site manager.

work days/nights/weekends etc

I get paid more if I work nights.

We’re sometimes expected to work twelve-hour days.

Are you working late (=working after the time you usually finish) again tonight?

Forty police officers are working round the clock (=working day and night without stopping) to find Murray’s killer.

Nowadays, many people are able to work from home.

3 . HELP [intransitive] if you work with someone or a group of people, your job involves trying to help them

work with/among

She’s just retired after 38 years working with children.

He has worked among some of the world’s poorest people.

4 . DO AN ACTIVITY [intransitive] to spend time and effort doing something:

I’ve been working in the garden all afternoon.

I’m going to have to work really hard to pass these exams.

We’re working together to develop a new system.

5 . TRY TO ACHIEVE SOMETHING [intransitive] to try continuously to achieve a particular thing

work towards

They are working towards a solution to their problems.

work for

We will work for the release of the hostages.

work to do something

The police are working to provide more help for victims of crime.

The company is working hard to improve its image.

He worked tirelessly (=worked very hard in a determined way) for the charity throughout his life.


a) [intransitive] if a machine or piece of equipment works, it does what it is supposed to do:

You should check that the smoke alarm is working properly.

The delete key doesn’t work.

get something to work

I can’t get the heater to work.

b) [transitive] to make a machine or piece of equipment do what it is supposed to do:

My parents can’t even work the video.

7 . BE EFFECTIVE/SUCCESSFUL [intransitive] to be effective or successful:

Making a marriage work can take a lot of effort.

I’ve never found a diet that works.

The recipe works just as well if you use margarine instead of butter.

The cream works immediately to relieve sore skin.

work for

You need to find which method works best for you.

work against

a drug that works against some types of cancer

8 . HAVE AN EFFECT [intransitive always + adverb/preposition] if something such as a fact, situation, or system works in a particular way, it has a particular effect on someone or something:

The arrangement works well for everyone involved.

The French team are the heavier crew, which should work in their favour (=help them) .

Sexism still works against (=harms or causes problems for) women in many professions.

Loyalty works both ways (=involves two opposite or matching effects) : we are loyal to our employees and, in turn, they are loyal to us.

9 . ART/STYLE/LITERATURE [intransitive] if a painting, design, piece of writing etc works, it is successful because it has the effect on you that the painter, writer etc intended:

I don’t think the scene with the horses really works, do you?

work for

The colour combination just doesn’t work for me.

10 . SHAPE/CUT SOMETHING [transitive] if you work a material such as metal, leather, or clay, you cut, sew, or shape it in order to make something

11 . USE A SUBSTANCE [intransitive] to use a particular material or substance in order to make something such as a picture, design, jewellery etc

work in/with

a sculptor who works in steel

a jeweller who works with silver

12 . work your way to/through etc something

a) to move somewhere slowly and with difficulty:

From here, we worked our way carefully across the rock base.

b) to achieve something gradually by working:

He had worked his way up to head of department.

13 . work your way through school/college/university etc to do a job while you are a student because you need the money to pay for your courses, books etc

14 . MOVE GRADUALLY [intransitive, transitive always + adverb/preposition] to move into a particular state or position very gradually, either in a series of small movements or after a long time:

Slowly he worked the screwdriver into the crack.

work (its way) loose

One of the screws must have worked loose.

15 . EXERCISE [transitive] to use and exercise a muscle or part of your body:

Swimming is a form of exercise that works every muscle in your body.

16 . MOVE [intransitive and transitive] formal if a part of your body works or you work it, it moves:

She was trembling and her mouth was working.

17 . WORK IN AN AREA [transitive] if you work a particular area or type of place, you travel around the area for your job, or work in that type of place:

Markowitz works the Tri-State area.

18 . work the door to take tickets from people as they enter a club, theatre etc:

Binns worked the door at various Manhattan clubs.

19 . ENTERTAIN A CROWD [transitive] if an entertainer or politician works a crowd of people, they entertain them and get their interest or support:

She really knew how to work a crowd.

20 . LAND/SOIL [transitive] if you work the land, soil etc, you do all the work necessary to grow crops on it:

He was left to work the farm alone.

21 . MINE [transitive] to remove a substance such as coal, gold, or oil from under the ground

22 . work like magic/work like a charm ( also work a treat British English ) to be very effective:

a polish that works a treat on windows

23 . MIND/BRAIN [intransitive] if your mind or brain is working, you are thinking or trying to solve a problem

24 . work on the principle/assumption/basis etc that to base ideas, plans etc on a particular fact that you think is true:

We’re working on the assumption that the conference will take place in Canada, as planned.

25 . work yourself into a frenzy/panic/state etc to make yourself become very nervous, angry etc:

He seemed to be working himself into a rage.

26 . work it/things spoken to make arrangements for something to happen, especially by behaving in a clever or skilful way:

We should try and work it so that we can all go together.

27 . work the system to understand how a system works so that you can get advantages for yourself, often in a slightly dishonest way:

Lynn could show the rest of us how to work the system.

28 . work somebody hard ( also work somebody into the ground informal ) to make someone work very hard:

The coach has been working us really hard this week.

People have complained that they are being worked into the ground.

work yourself into the ground

I’ve worked myself into the ground setting up this interview.

29 . work your fingers to the bone ( also work your socks off informal ) to work very hard

30 . work your butt/ass/arse off not polite to work very hard

31 . CALCULATE [transitive] American English formal to calculate the answer to a mathematical problem

32 . work to rule British English to protest about a situation at work by doing your job slowly, with the excuse that you must obey all the rules exactly

33 . It works for me spoken used to say that something is very suitable for you and does exactly what you wanted or expected:

I meditate and do Yoga every day. It works for me and I think it could work for you too.

⇨ work wonders at ↑ wonder 2 (4), ⇨ work miracles at ↑ miracle (4), ⇨ work your magic at ↑ magic 1 (5)

work around somebody/something ( also work round somebody/something British English ) phrasal verb

to arrange or organize something so that you avoid problems that may stop you from doing something:

John won’t be here on the 15th so we’ll have to work round that.

work around to something ( also work round to something British English ) phrasal verb

to gradually mention a subject in a conversation or piece of writing, especially because it is embarrassing:

You’ll have to work round to the subject gradually.

work at something phrasal verb

to try hard to improve something or achieve something:

Learning a language isn’t easy. You have to work at it.

work at doing something

couples who want to work at improving their relationship

work somebody/something in phrasal verb

1 . work something ↔ in ( also work something into something ) to include something in a speech, piece of writing, activity etc:

He managed to work in a few references to his new book.

Here are a few goodies you can work into your daily diet.

2 . work something ↔ in ( also work something into something ) to add one substance to another and mix them together in a very thorough way:

Work the butter into the flour.

3 . American English spoken to arrange to meet someone, even though you are very busy SYN fit somebody in British English :

My schedule’s pretty full, but I think I can work you in.

work something ↔ off phrasal verb

1 . to get rid of something, especially a feeling such as anger, nervousness etc, by doing something that uses a lot of your energy:

Walking is excellent for working off tension.

I need to go and work off a few of these calories.

2 . to do a job for someone else because you owe them money or because they have helped you in the past:

She hasn’t worked off her debts to me yet.

work on somebody/something phrasal verb

1 . to spend time working in order to produce or repair something:

He has spent the last two years working on a book about childcare.

Every weekend you see him working on his car.

2 . to try very hard to improve or achieve something:

A trainer has been brought in to work on her fitness.

work on doing something

We need to work on ensuring that the children feel safe and confident.

3 . to try continuously to influence someone or persuade them to do something:

You leave him to me. I’ll work on him.

work out phrasal verb

1 . PLAN work something ↔ out to think carefully about how you are going to do something and plan a good way of doing it:

UN negotiators have worked out a set of compromise proposals.

work out what/where/how etc

We need to work out how we’re going to get there.

I had it all worked out (=had made very careful plans) .

2 . CALCULATE work something ↔ out to calculate an answer, amount, price etc:

See if you can work this bill out.

work out how much/how many etc

We’ll have to work out how much food we’ll need for the party.

3 . UNDERSTAND work something ↔ out especially British English to think about something and manage to understand it:

The plot is very complicated – it’ll take you a while to work it out.

work something out for yourself

I’m sure you can work it out for yourself.

4 . COST if a cost or amount works out at a particular figure, it is found to be that much when you calculate it

work out at/to £10/$500 etc

The bill works out at £15 each.

work out expensive/cheap etc (=be expensive or cheap)

If we go by taxi, it’s going to work out very expensive.

5 . GET BETTER if a problem or complicated situation works out, it gradually gets better or gets solved:

Things will work out, you’ll see.

I hope it all works out for Gina and Andy.

work itself out

I’m sure everything will work itself out.

6 . HAPPEN if a situation works out in a particular way, it happens in that way SYN turn out

work out well/badly

Financially, things have worked out well for us.

7 . EXERCISE to make your body fit and strong by doing exercises:

He works out with weights twice a week.

⇨ ↑ workout

8 . I can’t work somebody out British English spoken used to say that you cannot understand what someone is really like or why they behave in the way they do:

I couldn’t work her out at all.

9 . be worked out if a mine is worked out, all the coal, gold etc has been removed from it

work somebody over phrasal verb informal

to attack someone by hitting them several times

work through phrasal verb

1 . work through something to deal with problems or unpleasant feelings:

After someone dies, it can take a long time to work through your grief.

2 . if the result or effect of something works through, it becomes noticeable:

The positive effect on businesses may take up to three years to work through.

work up phrasal verb

1 . work up enthusiasm/interest/courage etc to make yourself feel interested, brave etc:

I’m trying to work up enough courage to go to the dentist.

2 . work up an appetite/a thirst/a sweat to make yourself hungry or ↑ thirsty , or make yourself ↑ sweat , especially by doing physical exercise:

You can work up a really big thirst playing tennis.

3 . work somebody up to make someone very angry, excited, or upset about something

work yourself up

You’re working yourself up again.

She had worked herself up into a state.

⇨ ↑ worked up

4 . work something ↔ up to develop and improve something such as a project or a piece of writing:

Jack took notes which he would work up into a report later.

work up to something phrasal verb

to gradually prepare yourself to do something difficult

work up to doing something

He’d been working up to asking her for a date all week.

II. work 2 S1 W1 BrE AmE noun

[ Word Family: noun : ↑ work , ↑ workaholic , ↑ worker , ↑ working , WORKINGS ; adjective : ↑ workable ≠ ↑ unworkable , ↑ overworked , ↑ working ; verb : ↑ work , ↑ rework ]

[ Language: Old English ; Origin: werc , weorc ]

1 . JOB [uncountable] a job or activity that you do regularly, especially in order to earn money ⇨ employment :

There isn’t a lot of work at this time of the year.

He’s been out of work (=without a job) for two years.

More people are in work (=have a job) than ten years ago.

before/after work (=before a day of work or at the end of a day of work)

Do you want to go for a drink after work?


In this meaning, work is an uncountable noun. Do not say 'a work'. Say work or a job :

It may be difficult for older people to obtain paid work.

I applied for a job (NOT a work) as a reporter.

2 . PLACE [uncountable] a place where you do your job, which is not your home:

I had an accident on the way to work.

He left work at the usual time.

I went out with the girls from work last night.

at work

Dad’s at work right now.

3 . DUTIES [uncountable] the duties and activities that are part of your job:

A large part of the work we do involves using computers.

He starts work at 4 am.

He’s started a business doing gardening and roofing work.

4 . RESULT [uncountable] something that you produce as a result of doing your job or doing an activity:

Send a résumé and examples of your work.

The building is the work of architect Rafael Moneo.

The teacher should make sure that each child has a piece of work displayed on the wall.

The standard of work has declined.

5 . PAPERS ETC [uncountable] the papers and other materials you need for doing work:

Can you move some of your work off the kitchen table?

I often have to take work home with me.

6 . BOOK/PAINTING/MUSIC [countable] something such as a painting, play, piece of music etc that is produced by a painter, writer, or musician:

the Collected Works of Shakespeare

It is another accomplished work by the artist.

⇨ ↑ work of art

7 . ACTIVITY [uncountable] when you use physical or mental effort in order to achieve something

work on

Work will start next month on a new swimming pool in the centre of the city.

Looking after children can be hard work.

carry out/do work

You should not allow unqualified people to carry out work on your house.

set to work/get down to work (=start work)

He set to work immediately.

8 . STUDY [uncountable] study or ↑ research , especially for a particular purpose

carry out/do work

The centre carries out work to monitor trends in housing management.

He did his postgraduate work in Sociology.

9 . at work

a) doing your job or a particular activity:

He spent most of his time watching the fishermen at work.

b) having a particular influence or effect:

Volcanoes display some of nature’s most powerful forces at work.

10 . the (whole) works spoken used after mentioning several things, to emphasize that someone or something has everything you can think of:

The hotel had everything – sauna, swimming pool, the works.

11 . nice work/quick work spoken used to praise someone for doing something well or quickly:

That was quick work!

12 . something is in the works/pipeline informal used to say that something is being planned or developed:

Upgrades to the existing software are in the works.

13 . works

a) [plural] activities involved in building or repairing things such as roads, bridges etc

engineering works/irrigation works/roadworks

the official in charge of the engineering works

⇨ ↑ public works

b) [countable] ( plural works ) a building or group of buildings in which goods are produced in large quantities or an industrial process happens

ironworks/gasworks/cement works

The brick works closed last year.

14 . the works the moving parts of a machine SYN mechanism

15 . OPERATION [uncountable] an operation to make you look younger or more attractive SYN cosmetic surgery :

All these celebrities have had work done.

16 . have your work cut out (for you) informal used to say that it will be very difficult to do something:

The team will have their work cut out if they are to win the competition.

17 . make short/light work of something to do something very quickly and easily:

A microwave oven can make light work of the cooking.

18 . make heavy/hard work of something to do something with difficulty:

They made hard work of what should have been an easy game.

19 . be a work in progress to not be finished or perfect yet:

The garden is still very much a work in progress.

20 . all work and no play (makes Jack a dull boy) used to say that you should not spend all your time working, but should spend some of your time relaxing

21 . FORCE [uncountable] technical force multiplied by distance

⇨ be all in a day’s work at ↑ day (21), ⇨ do sb’s dirty work at ↑ dirty 1 (8), ⇨ a nasty piece of work at ↑ nasty (7), ⇨ nice work if you can get it at ↑ nice (12)

• • •

COLLOCATIONS (for Meanings 1 & 3)

■ verbs

▪ start work

He started work as a trainee accountant.

▪ look for work ( also seek work formal )

Young people come to town looking for work.

▪ find work (=get a job)

It was difficult for them to find work.

▪ return to work/go back to work

His doctor agreed he was fit enough to return to work.


▪ part-time work

In recent years part-time work has become more popular.

▪ full-time work

Are you available for full-time work?

▪ paid work

She hasn’t done any paid work since she had children.

▪ secretarial/clerical/office work

I have a background in secretarial work.


She had done clerical work before she married.

▪ legal work (=work done by lawyers)

He will handle all the legal work.

▪ manual work (=work done with your hands)

Most of them were employed in manual work.

▪ voluntary work British English , volunteer work American English (=a job you are not paid for)

She also did voluntary work in a girls’ club.

▪ sb’s daily work (=the work someone does every day)

When they finished their daily work they would be too tired for much except rest.

■ phrases

▪ sb’s line of work (=type of work)

I meet lots of interesting people in my line of work.

▪ the work environment

It is important to have a pleasant work environment.

▪ work practices

She supported me enthusiastically in bringing in new work practices.

• • •

COLLOCATIONS (for Meaning 7)

■ verbs

▪ carry out work

The work should be carried out without further delay.

▪ do work

He was doing some work on his father’s car.

▪ set to/get to/get down to work (=start work)

They set to work cutting down trees and brushwood.

▪ undertake work

About a three adults in ten undertake voluntary work.

▪ work starts/begins

Work had already started on the bridge when the error was spotted.

▪ work continues

Work is continuing on three major building projects.

■ adjectives

▪ hard

It’s been very hard work, but I’ve loved every moment of it.

▪ backbreaking (=very tiring)

Clearing the garden was slow, backbreaking work.

▪ arduous (=needing a lot of effort)

This was physically arduous work.

▪ heavy work (=hard physical work)

The heavy work is done by the gardener.

▪ light work (=work that is not physically hard)

He had been ill, but she found him some light work to do.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.      Longman - Словарь современного английского языка.