We recently shared a post on words meaning ‘difficult’. This week we look at a related area of the language – words and phrases that we use to describe tasks and activities that require a lot of effort.
Let’s start with expressions that we use for activities that require mainly physical effort. A strenuous activity requires the body to work hard: He was advised not to do strenuous exercise for a few days.
The adjective arduous usually describes things such as journeys and climbs that are hard and need a lot of effort: It was an arduous climb to get to the top.
Gruelling UK/grueling US is similar, but emphasizes that a difficult and tiring activity continues over a long period, requiring determination as well as effort: Junior doctors often have to work a gruelling 80-hour week.
The word punishing is also used of tiring activities that continue for long periods. It suggests that the activity is so tiring, it is almost damaging to the person. It is often used before the noun ‘schedule’: The team currently faces a punishing schedule of eight games in twenty days.
Work that is backbreaking is physically very hard, often causing pain to the back itself: Digging the vegetable garden was backbreaking work.
Of course, not all effort is physical. Tasks can require you to work hard in other ways. For example, a job that is painstaking needs a long period of concentration, requiring great care over small details: It took months of painstaking research to write the book.
A laborious task needs a lot of work that is boring or repetitive: We then began the laborious task of logging the data. An onerous task, meanwhile, involves great effort and responsibility. This is a formal word: She found her duties onerous./ the onerous task of finding a peaceful solution
If something that you have achieved is hard-won, it is the result of a great deal of hard work and effort: hard-won success/wealth Similarly, a hard-fought battle or victory involves great effort and determination: Eventually, they won but it was a hard-fought victory.
You might describe a task as an uphill battle or uphill struggle when it will require so much effort, you are not confident that it is even possible: It’ll be an uphill battle to get these proposals accepted.
Finally, a task that (informal) takes some doing requires a lot of effort: We could plant the whole of this area but it would take some doing.