Labor vs. labour

There is no difference in meaning between labor and labour. Labor is the preferred spelling in American English, and labour is preferred throughout the rest of the English-speaking world. One exception: In Australia, the American spelling is used in reference to the Australian Labor Party. In all other contexts, Australians use labour. This idiosyncrasy results from the influence of the American labor movement on the founders of the Australian Labor Party. The British Labour Party has the u.

Though labor is now the American spelling, the form is many centuries old. The Oxford English Dictionary lists examples from as long ago as the 1400s, predating the development of American English by several centuries. It remained the less common spelling, though, until the Americans made it their preferred form early in the 19th century.

The switch from -our spellings to -or spellings was one of the major early developments in American English. Many distinctively American (or North American, in some cases) spellings weren’t settled until the second half of the 19th century or even later. But labor, along with many other -or words, became the prevalent spelling in the U.S. around 1840. This ngram, which graphs the use of labor and labour in American books published from 1800 to 2019, renders the story visually:

Labor Vs Labour American English



Applications fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 383,000, reinforcing confidence that the labor market is on track to recovery. [Los Angeles Times]

Efforts to jump-start N.F.L. labor talks seem to have stalled. [New York Times]

U.K., Canada

Initial jobless claims fell by 36,000 to 383,000, the labour department said on Thursday. [Financial Times]

Ottawa is mulling ways to tap into the U.S. labour force as worker shortages loom on our side of the border. []


Demand for skilled labour softened in the final three months of 2010. [The Age]

NSW Labor MP Angela D’Amore is to appeal against a corruption finding that she rorted staff expense claims. [Sydney Morning Herald]

19 thoughts on “Labor vs. labour”

  1. The real reason the Australian Labour Party spell it Labor was because some ignorant and poorly educated member (like the leaders of present Labour Party) could not spell the word correctly and because there was no one with enough knowledge to correct the error, the incorrect spelling was promulgated!

  2. So in summary the US spells it wrong, as its the “English” language the spelling should be followed and the ongoing mistake corrected.

  3. I am in an American University and things like this always trip me up (Being Canadian myself and fully used to the -our suffix) thanks for helping me clear that up as well as learn a thing or two pertaining to their history! :)

  4. “Labor is the preferred spelling in American English, and labour is preferred throughout the rest of the English-speaking world.” You should amend this statement. It seems a little exaggerated considering many countries use (American) English as a their foreign language. Wouldn’t “…labour is preferred throughout the former British colonies” be more accurate. I’m not a grammarian, but a lowly EFL teacher. m( * )m

    • Very true brother. I live in Kenya a former Britain colony, we use labor
      but officially it should be Labour I struggle with that a lot.

    • I agree with Dennis. With the prevailing ubiquity of US soaps and Hollywood movies, not to mention the new media, the olden British worldview expressed seems quaint, almost adorable, even to Europeans like myself.

    • And America is not a former British / English colony??
      The fact is that english was spread throughout the world by colonisation. If people in those former colonies choose to modify the language that is up to them but their doing so leads to much confusion amongst people learning english.
      The French have an authorised version of their language, I believe.

  5. I am a New Zealander living in Australia
    I am finding Australia seems to follow the Americans in every way which way.
    spelling is one of them, “labour” is spelt by newspapers here, but the “Labor” party spells it like this, hmmm
    What are they, American supporters or is it that someone here that started the Labour party couldn’t spell?

    I checked that and actually found the answer: It was adopted from 1912 onwards, due to the influence of the American labor movement.but they did have it right at one stage, as it was called
    ‘Australian Labour Party’ in 1908.
    cabinet minister King O’Malley thought he would “modernise” the name; at
    the time, it seemed likely that Australia would move to American

    I suppose its one of them things … like i before e except after c, I used to get my hand slapped with a ruler all the time at school for getting that wrong.
    I still get it wrong sometimes.
    Alas the English wording/ spelling is so hard to get right where ever one goes.

    Then we have to think…. English should be English and spelt like English Then you have American and Americans like to or at least seem to, change everything they feel like,
    they actually need to learn to write proper English or have there own language, not push there own mis-spelt wording onto other English speaking countries.

    • interesting , yeah the American English was modeled after the French alphabet I was told ,something to do with the letters g & j and the letters k & c being the same semivowels and consonants I was pretty drunk at the time so don’t quote me ,color and colour are the same but if you were to read it as it sounds you end up with the alcoholic beverage kahlua – ironic that they hate them so much

    • If you’re going to instruct others on proper written English you might want to learn the difference between “there” and “their”.

      • You a teacher?
        Are you going to whip/smack me over the hand with your ruler?
        It’s a bit like using z and s, there or their, even though I got the spelling wrong with their/there why change wording, it’s like using totally different spelling or letters even with civilize or civilise.
        American likes to use the ize where the British, Aussies and the Kiwis use ise.

        But then English is very confusing especially with spelling, so I understand
        why the Americans got it all wrong. lol

        Now don’t go and get mad it’s the Kiwi humour coming out and we have to have
        a dig at the Americans when we can.

        • The scattershot nature of your response makes it clear that I’ve struck a nerve. It would’ve been more dignified if you had just learned from your mistake and moved on. Be well.

          • ummm as I said its the Kiwi humour comming out, its not a scattershot at you. generally I don’t jump up and down when I am wrong I will admit it. and I did,
            I know some people think that our sence of humour is not humour but if you were an Aussie or Kiwi you would have had a smile

  6. These words ending in -our tend to derive originally from Latin, which does not have the u. In the UK we always add it, probably as a result of French influence.
    The result is somewhat confusing. Colour, coloured, colouration; honour, honoured, honorary; labour, laboured, laboratory.
    I think the American versions are more sensible even though they look very odd to those of us with a British education.


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