Labor vs. Labour: What’s the Difference?

When some Americans pursued a distinctly American form of English, one of the changes they decided to make was to simplify the spelling of certain words to more closely represent the ways they are likely to be pronounced by American speakers.

Whether this effort was laudable or even successful is outside the scope of this article, but one of the results of this movement is a wealth of spelling differences between American and British English.

You can see one of these differences in labor and labour. While the word has several senses and two spellings, it is easy to decide whether labor or labour is more appropriate.

What is the Difference Between Labor and Labour?

In this article, I’ll discuss the difference between these two words. I’ll use each in a sentence. I’ll also explain a useful memory tool to help you decide whether to use labour or labor in your writing.

When to Use Labor

labor versus labourWhat does labor mean? Labor is the American English spelling of this word. It can be a noun or a verb.

As a noun, labor is a synonym of work or effort, like in the following examples:

  • The mechanic charged me for parts and labor.
  • After years of hard labor, the bridge was completed.
  • Napa County is honing a building policy for its $16.8 million reentry facility for jail inmates with several goals – how to avoid strikes and a ballooning budget while promoting the hiring of local labor. –Napa Valley Register

It often, but not always, refers to hard, physical work, as in the phrase manual labor.

Sometimes, labor refers to a stage in the process of childbirth. The sentence below is a typical usage of labor in this sense.

  • The pregnant woman went into labor in the taxi.

As a verb, labor is again a synonym for work. It is a regular verb, and can be conjugated into various tenses by adding -ed and -ing.

See the following examples,

  • I labored from dawn till dusk in the hot sun to finish this year’s harvest in time.
  • When I arrived, the workers were laboring under the foreman’s merciless authority.

When to Use Labour

Definition of labor definition of labour definitionWhat does labour mean? Labour is the preferred spelling of this word in British English. It is used in all the same senses as its American counterpart.

In the case of one of the major British political parties, it also functions as a proper noun. See below,

  • The Labour Party finds itself in a time of great internal turmoil.
  • Jeremy Corbyn has won local party nominations by a landslide in the Labour leadership contest, with 84% of constituency nominations at the final count. –The Guardian

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define labour and define labor Here is a trick to remember labour vs. labor in your writing.

Labor and labour are the same word. Labor is preferred in American English, whereas labour is standard in British English.

You can remember to use labour for British audiences by looking at the U in both labour and United Kingdom. By linking these words together in your mind, you can easily remember that labour is the preferred form in British English.

Summary

Is it labor or labour? There are many spelling differences between British and American English, labor and labour being an excellent example.

Labor is used in American English, while British English has standardized labour. The word has several senses, but they are shared between both spellings.

By looking at the U in both labour and United Kingdom, you can always be sure to use labour with British audiences.

To summarize,

  • Use labor in American English.
  • Use labour in British English.
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