The language of work

by Kate Woodford
Most of us talk about our jobs. We tell our family and friends interesting or funny things that have happened in the workplace (=room where we do our job), we describe – and sometimes complain about – our bosses and colleagues and when we meet someone for the first time, we tell them what our jobs are. Here, then, is a selection of English vocabulary to help you to speak about your work.

A career is a job or number of jobs of a similar type that a person does over a long period: I’d always wanted a career in teaching./I wasn’t interested in an academic career. The word profession is used in a similar way, but always refers to work that needs a lot of education and training: the medical/legal profession. Note that ‘profession’ also means the people who do a particular type of work: The medical profession is always looking to improve patient care.

Many work words and phrases refer to the time that we spend working. A shift is a period of time that is worked, for example in a factory or hospital: the night shift/a ten-hour shift. A full-time job is done for the whole of a working week, and a part-time job involves working only for part of it. Note that ‘full-time’ and ‘part-time’ are adverbs as well as adjectives: a full-/part-time job/She works full-/part-time. Overtime, meanwhile, refers to time spent working after the usual time expected for the job. It is both an adverb and a noun: Anything over 40 hours is overtime./We had to work overtime to get the job finished. People who work more hours than most people may be said to work long hours. People who work unsocial hours work during a time when most people do not have to work, usually the night: doctors who work unsocial hours. Your workload is the amount of work that you have to do: As a family doctor, he has a very heavy workload. Meanwhile, the work-life balance is the amount of time you spend at work, compared with your free time: Most working people struggle to get the work-life balance right.

Other work words and phrases refer to time that we do not work. For example, leave is time that we are allowed to take off work, for example for holiday, illness or having babies: I get twenty days annual leave (=paid time off every year). Isabel is on maternity leave (=off work to have a baby). If someone is off sick, they are not at work because they are ill: Three of our team are currently off sick. A career break is a period of time when you choose not to have a job: I took a career break for a year and travelled. Meanwhile, to retire is to stop working permanently, usually because you have reached a particular age: My father retired at sixty-five.

If someone is promoted, they are raised to a more important position at work, and if they are demoted, they are given a lower position. If they are sacked or they are made redundant, they are removed from a job: He got sacked from his last job.

Someone who works hard is hard-working and someone who has to work too much is overworked: hard-working teachers/overworked nurses. If a person is very interested in their work and is keen to make progress, you may describe them as career-minded: She worked to earn money but she was never especially careerminded. If you describe a person at work as professional, you mean they show the correct qualities and skills for work, such as being smart, serious and organised: The woman who dealt with us was very professional.

Here’s hoping you now have the vocabulary to talk work!

34 thoughts on “The language of work

    1. katewoodford

      Hi! Pretty much, yes. Both carry the sense of not being needed because there is no longer work for you. Of course, ‘lay off’ is a verb, (a phrasal verb) and ‘redundant’ an adjective. To make a verbal phrase with ‘redundant’ we would use the verb ‘make’, as in, ‘She was made redundant last year.’ This is the same as ‘She was laid off’ last year. I hope that helps!

  1. Nayely

    This is the first time I read a post from this blog and I love it! It is very useful and easy to read from English learners. Thanks 🙂

  2. Jayanthi

    I am new to cambridge ONLINE……it may sound cliche but seriously i found it very helpful to improve my communication…and a request from me, how to get ur older posts i.e ur previous year’s. i tried all the ways but i cant get those posts….pls help me out

    1. Hi Jayanthi, one way to see previous posts is to click on the author’s photo from the list on the right – this will display only the posts from that author. Then keep scrolling down and more should be loaded, going right back to February 2012!

    1. katewoodford

      Hi there! Good question! Where words or phrases are used in UK or US English only, I try to mention this in my blog. Just to be sure, you can look up any of the entries at this address:
      If the word or phrase is used in one English only, this will be shown with a label. I hope that helps.

  3. Jayanthi

    today i came across a post of english sentences called tabloid english which i found very interesting. pls make more posts on that. It is very different….

  4. Eduardo Anguiano

    Hi,my name is Eduardo .I would like to trave to U.S.A or Canadá soon but I’m still studying .I loved this article and I need to learn more Architecture vocabulary ,materials,tools and drawing tools please .Thank you so much .

  5. Nadia Ziarati

    Hi.I enjoy reading your post very much.this blog’s really useful & I’ve learnt lots of things in it.Thanks so much.

    1. katewoodford

      Thank you! That’s very encouraging. We post blogs regularly on a variety of useful subjects, so do keep coming back! All the best, Kate

  6. Nada Yossef

    I enjoyeyed reading your post and I need alot of your posts and I Hope to be afriend with most of you thanks Ia Egyptian

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    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi there! ‘I waited for her for hours’ (meaning, for many hours) is correct and ‘I waited for her for an hour.’ is correct (meaning exactly
      one hour). I hope that helps!

      1. Aaqib Farooq

        Hello Kate,
        I would be very grateful of you.If you give me your email as I have to ask u more questions as to English language.

  8. L

    What about someone who is interested in their study? Is there something like “school-minded” or “study-minded”. Thank you in advance.

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