A Piece of Work – Meaning & Examples

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

The phrase “a piece of work” is a colloquial expression that is used to describe someone or something that is particularly noteworthy or impressive. You can use it in a positive or negative sense, depending on the context you’re dealing with. Let’s look at it together as I go over its origin and definition and show how to use it in sentences.

Where Did the Phrase Piece of Work Come From?

Grammarist Article Graphic V4 2023 01 10T005159.961

The origin of this phrase is somewhat unclear, but it’s believed to originate in the 16th century. One theory is that it comes from the phrase “a work of art,” which was used to describe something that was aesthetically pleasing or skillfully crafted.

Over time, this phrase was shortened to “a piece of work” and came to be used more broadly to describe anything that was worthy of attention or praise.

Piece of Work Meaning Today

A piece of work Ngram
A piece of work usage trend.

In modern usage, the phrase “a piece of work” is often used to describe someone who is complex or difficult to understand. It can even be used to show admiration or respect for someone who is particularly skilled or talented at something.

Consider this as an example, when speaking about someone I work with and admire, I might say, “She’s a real piece of work – she’s always coming up with creative solutions to problems,” or “He’s a piece of work – he’s been playing the guitar for years, and he’s still getting better.”

In a negative sense, the phrase “a piece of work” can be used to describe someone who is difficult to deal with or who causes problems for others.

For example, when dealing with an unpleasant person you don’t like, you might say, “That guy is a real piece of work – he’s always causing trouble at work,” or “She’s a piece of work – she’s always causing drama wherever she goes.”

What’s Another Word for Piece of Work?

Negative

  • Monster
  • Savage
  • Psycho

Positive

  • Idol
  • Role model
  • Hard worker
  • Genius

Examples of a Piece of Work in Sentences

  • Negative: My mother is a real piece of work. She is lowering my curfew by an hour just because I was late yesterday.
  • Positive: My husband is a fine piece of work. He works all day and then comes home to cook supper and do the dishes.
  • Negative: I can’t believe you manipulated me all these years! You’re a nasty piece of work! You’re a monster!
  • Positive: My kid is such a piece of work. She self-taught herself to play piano and has her first recital next week.

Language Is a Piece of Work

Overall, the phrase “a piece of work” is a versatile expression that is used to describe someone or something that is noteworthy or impressive in some way. It can be used in both a positive and negative sense, depending on the context in which it is used, and it is a common way to express admiration, respect, or frustration with someone or something. The difference is in the articulation.

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered:

Help Us Improve!

Help Us Improve!

- Did we make a mistake?
- Do you have feedback or suggestions on how we can improve?