Don’t confuse “work” and “works”

The word “work” can be a verb or noun or even an adjective. This entry looks at “work” and “works” as nouns.

“Work” has several different meanings, but one of the most common is “exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labour; toil” []. In this sense it is an uncountable noun and has no plural form.

We have a lot of work.
We will start the work as soon as we have received the signed Power of Attorney.
The work involved 17 hours of lawyer’s work and 5 hours of translator’s work.


I find people commonly make the mistake of using “works” in this context – especially in sentences like the second and third examples above.

“Works” has a different meaning. It is used to describe construction or engineering projects.

There are traffic jams all over the city due to the road works in the centre.
Works on the bridge were delayed by 4 weeks due to bad weather.
The Works were signed off 6 months after the Completion Date.

So you should never use “works” to describe the work you do when you’re sitting at a desk.

“Works” can also be used to mean an industrial plant, e.g. Over two hundred people are employed at the works. It may be used in combination with other words, e.g. “ironworks”, “steelworks”, “gasworks”. In this sense the word has no singular form. However, you may say, e.g. “one gasworks”.

Earthworks” (uncountable) means excavation works in connection with a construction or engineering project. But an “earthwork” (countable) is a defensive fortification built into the ground, often of archaeological interest.

We also talk about e.g. “the works of a watch”, “the washing machine’s works” to describe a machine’s internal mechanism.

“Work” as a countable noun

“Work” is used as a countable noun when referring to works of art or literature.

A work of art.
Numerous new works of Picasso have been revealed by the artist’s electrician.
Pan Tadeusz by Mickiewicz is the most famous work of Polish literature.

Idioms with “works”

in the works – (informal) in preparation, e.g. Various amendments to the Act are in the works.
a spanner in the works – (informal) a problem, e.g. The appearance of new evidence has thrown a spanner in the works.
with the works – (slang) with the full range, with everything, e.g. Give me a hot dog with the works.
give somebody the works – (slang) beat somebody up, give somebody severe treatment, e.g. We took him out the back door of the bar and gave him the works.

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17 Responses to Don’t confuse “work” and “works”

  1. Sinagnanasuntharam Suthagar says:

    The explanation given on this page is really elaborate and clear and everybody can understand it very well. Thanks for your contribution.

  2. B Jones says:

    What about “He works very hard”?

  3. Danh says:

    Thank you for your detail explaination. It is really helpful for me. By the way, I still confuse using it. What should I use “work” or “works” when I’d to mention the papers, publications or studies in a field of computer science? I understand that in the heading we should use “Related Work”, but when I want to talk about several typical papers, what should I use: typical work is [1][2][3],.. or typical works are [1][2][3]…?

    Thank you a lot.

    • Danh – you can use “Related Work” or “Related Works” as a title listing various papers etc. If you use “work” you’re refering to the uncountable concept of work people have done related to the issue. If you use “works” you are referring to countable papers, studies etc that have been published on the issue.
      So – as regards you second point – I would say “typical works are” – because you seem to be listing publications.

  4. eben says:

    Thanks for your blog post, but I am still a bit confused:
    I am preparing an album of minimal electronic music. It contains 7 tracks. Should I call it ‘Minimal Work” by B. Edwards, or ‘Minimal Works” by B. Edwards?


    • eben – If you use “works” it implies the album is a collection of individual works: one work is one track. If you use “work” it refers to the album as an uncountable mass. This may imply that the whole album is a single work rather than a collection of them. But not necessarily, as it may also refer to the results of your work – where each track is a result. But “minimal work” may also be interpreted to mean that you put a minimal amount of work into making the music!

  5. Gina says:

    A recent theatre programme states that “other work by this writer can be found in the bookshop”. I would prefer works, plural. Are both correct?

    • I agree with you about “works” – I prefer it in this context as well. But I think both are technically correct. The difference is that “works” is the countable form, referring to numerous individual plays or whatever, while “work” is the uncountable form referring to the writer’s mass of work.

  6. John Smith says:

    Sorry, I speak a little English. I would like create a website for my works. My works is design, paintings, drawings, etc. If my name is John Smith, what choose it: or

  7. John Smith says:

    Sorry, I speak a little English. I would like create a website for my works. My works is design, paintings, drawings, etc. If my name is John Smith, what choose it: or

  8. Malakai says:

    Great explanation! Very clear, complete and above all, much needed! Thanks for the help

  9. jj66 says:

    I have a question. If we have 3 articles and we want to refer to these articles in a new article, we must say “in our previous work” or “in our previous works”?
    Thank you

    • I would say “in previous articles”. “Works” is a plural countable noun in this case. But if you use it here it sounds like you’re referring to works of literature – and articles are not usually considered such. If you use “work” you would be using it as an uncountable noun, which refers to all your previous articles as a mass. But again, it sounds rather pretentious to refer to articles in this way – although I guess it depends on what the articles are about and the context. Technically both “work” and “works” are correct, but I would say they’re likely to be the wrong choice of word in this case.

  10. Justin says:

    “Each of our therapists work closely with one of our two brilliant PTA’s” or Each of our therapists works closely with one of our two brilliant PTA’s” ?

    • Justin – your question applies to “work” as a verb, not a noun. “Works” is the correct form of the verb as “each” refers to each individual therapist, so you should use the singular form.

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