The words “labor” and “labour” may seem identical – they are pronounced the same and mean the same thing, but there is one subtle difference – the letter “u”.
When should you use the letter “u” when you spell the words labour/labor?
British vs American English
The primary difference between “labor” and “labour” is in the spelling used in British and American English.
The spelling labour with a “u” is preferred in the British Commonwealth, including Canada. Here’s the break down:
- Labour: This spelling is the standard form in British English and other Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In these regions, the word refers to work, especially physical work, but is used mostly in legal and political contexts.
- Labor: This is the American English spelling of the word, and it is used in the United States. It shares the same meaning as “labour” but follows the American linguistic tradition.
In summary, here’s all you need to know about labour vs labor:
- Labour with the “u“ is used in British English (including all Commonwealth countries, like Canada).
- Labor without “u“ is used in American English.
In Legal and Political Terms
In some English-speaking countries, “Labour” might refer to a political party, such as the Labour Party in the UK.
In a legal context, labour/labor represents the people, work, laws, rules, and regulations related to unionized employment. For example, I am a labour and employment lawyer. I have to write the word “labour” a lot. And I always have to fight my American-made spellchecker as I, correctly, spell it with an “u”. This is because I am in Canada and the right way to spell labour (as in unionized employment) is “labour” not “labor”.
In Medical Terminology
“Labor/Labour” can also refer to the process of childbirth in both American and British English. It describes the stages a woman goes through as she gives birth. Again, it is “labour” in Commonwealth countries and “labor” in the US when describing when a woman begins to give birth.
Not Every Time
For whatever reason, in Commonwealth counties, including Canada, the “u” is dropped in the term “laborious”. (Source)
Choosing “labor” or “labour” depends on where you in the world. In Commonwealth countries like the UK and Canada, we use the letter “u” to spell labour and in the USA, they do not. Remember to consider your audience’s location with each spelling and adapt your writing style accordingly.
Read More: Practise Or Practice (Canadian Spelling)
Jeff is a lawyer in Toronto who works for a technology startup. Jeff is a frequent lecturer on employment law and is the author of an employment law textbook and various trade journal articles. Jeff is interested in Canadian business, technology and law, and this blog is his platform to share his views and tips in those areas.