‘Labor’ vs ‘Labour’: What’s the Difference? Clearly, the most visible difference between these two words lies in the spelling. But it may surprise some people that this is not, in fact, a typo but rather a difference that comes from historical linguistics.
In a hurry? Here is a quick rundown of what you’ll read:
As mentioned, the spelling difference between these two words is not a mistake but rather represents two spellings that are both correct. ‘Labor’ is the American English spelling of the word. Meanwhile, ‘Labour’ is the older British English spelling of the word.
The difference between ‘Labor’ vs ‘Labour’ is one that has its roots in historical spelling stemming back from before the founding of the United States. Old British English used the old spelling ‘Labour’ in its official dictionaries, which were brought over to the Americas.
As time progressed, the American accent developed and sounded less and less British, which impacted not only pronunciation but spelling as well. When Noah Webster published the first American dictionary in 1806, many formerly British English spellings were changed.
In modern American English, we now use ‘Labor’ as our primary spelling, but ‘Labour’ is still used in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe.
An easy way to avoid confusion when encountering British English spellings is to know what the original spellings are. Below are a few examples to help you get a handle on these historical forms of our new words.
The reason some of these may look as though they sound ridiculous is because they don’t match how we view these words phonetically — hence what drove so much of the spelling change. The “ou” sound in American English sounds way more like “ow” than just the plain “o,” which is why we read these words more familiarly without the “ou.”
These are just a few more examples of changes from British English to American English. If you look and read closely they show that same change to a more American pronunciation being reflected phonetically.
Now that you’ve learned more about the root of the difference between ‘Labor’ vs ‘Labour,’ let’s dive in and learn more about the word itself.
A reminder that ‘Labor’ and ‘Labour’ both mean exactly the same, but for clarity, I will stick to one spelling here.
According to Oxford Languages, ‘Labor’ is a noun that means:
As a noun, it can also mean:
As a verb, ‘Labor’ is defined as:
As a verb, it can also mean:
Given the words are the same to the regular American eye, one might assume they are pronounced the same as well. In theory, they are — but the difference in pronunciation and a lack of phonetic matching is what led to the spelling change in the first place. So, below, you’ll find both the American English and British English pronunciations to see how the words would sound in both contexts.
Use this phonetic spelling of the American English ‘Labor’ as a guide:
Use this phonetic spelling of the British English ‘Labour’ as a guide:
To help specify context, below, you’ll find example sentences with scenarios where you might use both American English and British English spellings. Depending on where you live, one spelling may be more normal to you, but seeing both can also help you identify it in future readings.
This article has been both a history and a vocabulary lesson all in one. Navigating British English spellings can be confusing at first, but are much easier once you start to recognize where they appear.
Want a recap of what was covered?
Want to nail down other British English spellings? Check out other confusing word articles to get a sense of other historical linguistic changes and expand your understanding of the English language on a global level.