You know what’s quite surprising? The fact that a lot of English learners, even high-level English learners, still get confused about the difference between “job” and “work.”
I mean, “job” vs “work” — simple, right?
Well, they look simple, but it’s quite surprising how they behave.
Generally speaking, there’s one big difference between “job” and “work.”
And there are also lots of useful little phrases with “job” and “work.”
So what are we waiting for?
Let’s check it out!
Check what out?
The difference between “job” and “work” in English, of course! What else?
The main difference between “job” and “work”
“Job” and “work” are both nouns, but they’re slightly different.
Your job is your occupation (like a cleaner, a teacher, a banker or a scientist).
Work, on the other hand, is the stuff you do.
It can be stuff you do in your job (like doing a project or fixing a roof or writing equations).
Or outside it (like the cooking or sorting out your internet banking or doing the gardening).
Another important difference is that “job” is countable and “work” is uncountable.
That means you can say “a job” or “jobs,” but you can only say “work,” (not “works” or “a work”). (See below for exceptions.)
What’s that? You want some examples?
How to use “job”
Check out this example:
“Hey! You know a lot about cats. You should get a job as a pet psychologist!”
As you can see, we use the phrase “get a job as” plus the name of a job.
So you can get a job as a pet psychologist, get a job as a mechanic and get a job as a cruise ship pilot.
While we’re talking about new jobs, we’re reminded of that uncomfortable process of looking for a job, also known as looking for work or job hunting.
When we’re doing this, by the way, we’re known as job seekers, and, for some reason, not job hunters.
So we can look for a job, find a job, interview for a job and, if all goes well, we get a job.
We can also use “as” here to say exactly what the job is:
“She’s looking for a job as an antique dealer.”
“I’m interviewing for a job as a marine biologist this afternoon. I’m nervous.”
If you want to say what the job involves, you can simply add verb + -ing after “job.”
“I want to get a job helping old people. I just love them!”
“I really hope Danni gets that job selling carrots online. It really suits her!”
By the way, when we want to ask someone what their job is, we can, unsurprisingly, say “Hey! What’s your job?”
But it’s actually more common to say “What do you do?” or even “What do you do for a living?”
However, when answering this question, don’t say, “My job is an engineer” — it sounds strange.
Instead, just say “I’m an engineer.”
Unless you’re not an engineer, of course.
The same goes for other people.
So don’t say, “My sister’s job is a lawyer.” Instead, say, “My sister is a lawyer.”
How to use “work”
So, while “job” is very specific, for example, plumber, street cleaner, investment banker and real estate agent, “work” is much more general.
Usually, when we talk about work, we’re talking about things you do — things that involve physical or mental effort.
This means that, when we use “work,” we’re often talking about how good or bad it is or how much or how little there is to do.
So we talk about rewarding work or hard work or too much work.
We often say, “There’s work to do” or “I’ve got work to do” when we want to talk about unfinished work.
“Come on! Get up! There’s work to do!”
“There isn’t really much work to do around here. You can go home if you like.”
“Leave me alone! Haven’t you got any work to do or something?”
You can also use the phrase “do all the work” when you think that you’re doing more than you should.
This can be as part of your actual job:
“Oh, him? He’s the boss’s son. He just sits around while I do all the work.”
Or outside your job:
“Why am I doing all the work here? Pick up an oar and row!”
Other differences between “job” and “work”
OK. So we’ve just seen the main differences between “job” and “work.”
But, since working is such a major part of our lives (for now at least), these words also have other small differences.
Here they are!
Work is place
“Work” is often used to mean “the place where I work.”
So, we can say “get to work,” “at work” and “get back from work.”
Well, OK then …
“Before Corona, it took me ages to get to work in the morning. Now I just roll out of bed.”
“Sorry. I’m at work at the moment. Can I call you back in a couple of hours?”
“Where’s Barretta? She’s usually back from work around now.”
“OK. That’s it! I’m sorry, Barry, but you’re fired. You’ve turned up late to work for the 75th day in a row. Bye!”
And one more thing, watch out for this classic mistake — don’t say “I get to my work,” just “I get to work.”
By the way, in my book 102 Little Drawings That Will Help You Remember English Rules Forever (Probably) you can find this little image that will help you remember the “job is occupation / work is doing / job is a place” rule:
“Work” is also a verb
This is not going to surprise you:
“Work” is commonly used as a verb.
See. I told you it wouldn’t surprise you.
We can use the verb “work” in different ways.
When we’re giving details about our job, we can say:
- I work as + a job
- I work in + industry (e.g. retail, IT)
- I work at + company
- I work for + company
So, I could say something like, “My brother used to work as an engineer at McLaren. He still works in the automotive industry, but he works for himself now.”
All that is true, by the way.
I’m proud of my brother.
But we can use “work” as a verb in other ways, too.
When machines, projects and plans go well, then we say that they work. And when they don’t, we say they don’t work.
So, if you’re trying to arrange a time with your hairstylist, you might say something like “Does tomorrow at four work for you?” or “Tuesday works for me. What about you?”
Or if your boss has told you that Barry’s away this week doing “beach research” in the Maldives, so you’re going to have to work an extra hour every day and come in on Saturday morning, too, you know what to say, right?
“Sorry. That doesn’t work for me.”
Seriously — Barry gets away with everything.
This use of “work” works for machines, too: we can say that machines work (or don’t work).
If your hairdryer stops drying your hair and, instead, lets out a weak stream of cool air, then you can say that it doesn’t work.
And when you try to fix your PlayStation by throwing it down the stairs, you can express your surprise at how effective it was by saying, “I can’t believe that worked!”
Then you can get back to the serious work of destroying monsters on the internet. Or whatever it is people do with PlayStations.
Seriously, I haven’t gamed since Doom II was a thing:
That phrase, “I can’t believe that worked,” also works pretty well when you pretend to be a “wallet inspector.”
By the way, there’s an interesting, but small, difference between “start working” (“work” as a verb) and “start work” (“work” as a noun).
When you start working, you’re focusing on the work itself: the project or building or meeting or whatever it is you’re doing — the task ahead of you.
But when you start work, you’re focusing on your working day: your routine, your nine-to-five, your eight hours of designated work time.
“Damn. There’s so much to do. I suppose I’d better start working if I want to be free before lunch.”
“We start work around nine and finish around four.”
“Works” is someone’s creative achievements
Hey! Did you notice that?
“But you said that ‘work’ was uncountable?”
“Work” is usually uncountable.
But there are two situations when we use the plural, “works.”
One is with the phrase “the works of.”
So you can talk about the complete works of William Shakespeare.
Or you can say, “I’m a big fan of the works of Philip Glass.”
Or, “There’s an exhibition on at the Hayward Gallery showing the works of Francis Bacon.”
We use “the works of” when talking about writers, poets, artists, musicians and anyone who has produced a lot of stuff over their careers.
But they need to have been prolific — they need to have created a lot.
You need to create a lot of work to earn that extra “-s.”
“Works” is construction
We also use “works” in the plural in the oddly specific situation when you have people working on the road or on the water pipes or on the electricity cable or basically any situation when people are digging up the road or making big holes in the ground.
In other words, construction.
In the UK, you’ll often see signs saying “Works ahead” or “Diversion! Road works ahead!” or even “Stop! Works!”
However, we don’t always use “works”; we can also use “work” in this situation. They’re interchangeable.
So you might see a sign saying, “Stop! Works ahead!” or one simply saying “Stop! Work ahead!”
Either way, this all seems rather panic-inducing if you ask me.
Chill, road people. Chill.
A job is a task
Finally, let’s revisit our friend Mr Job.
So we know that we can use “job” to talk about our occupation (teacher, construction worker, tennis coach, etc.)
But we also use “job” to mean a task — a small piece of work.
So we can say stuff like, “Don’t leave just yet, Mona. I’ve got a job for you. Can you take this cake to the HR office and give it to Janice? Thanks!”
Or, when you’ve helped a friend move all her furniture to her new house, then you can sit back, relax and say, “OK! Job done! Beer?”
And, if you get suspiciously cheap workers in to install new windows, you’ll want to make sure that they’ve finished the job before they leave.
And, at this point of this blog post, you can say, “Job done! I read it all!”
And well done! You know more now.
And that’s always nice.
But, before you leave, why not test your knowledge?
Did you really learn something?
Or did you just read everything while thinking about birds and waterfalls?
One way to find out — answer these questions:
- What’s your job?
- What time do you usually start work? When do you finish?
- Who’s your favourite painter? Can you describe any of their works?
- When was the last time you got angry at something because it. just. wouldn’t. bloody***. work?
Leave your answer in the comments!