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Last updated at 17:51 BST, Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Work / job

'I work for the BBC' (BBC Presenter George Alagiah)

'I work for the BBC'

A question from Giuliana in Italy:
What is the difference between work and job? They both have the same meaning in Italian but I'd like to know better how to use them.


Gareth Rees answers

Click to listen to Gareth's answer:

Hello Giuliana.
Thank you for your question about the difference between work and job. Although this topic isn’t necessarily most people’s favourite subject, the difference between the two words is important.

Firstly, on a grammatical level, work is both a verb and a noun, whereas job is only a noun. Let’s look at their meanings now.

Work is an activity in which you use effort or energy, normally to achieve a particular aim or task, rather than for fun or enjoyment. It is essentially the opposite of play, and to work means to do such an activity. Generally, we work in order to earn money, and this is often how we use the verb; to describe what we do to earn money. For example:

I work for the BBC.
David works in a café.

In these examples, we do not know exactly what the person’s duties or responsibilities are. David works in a café, but we do not know if he cleans the tables or cooks the food.

So, in this sense, work has a very general meaning, whereas job is much more specific, and its most common meaning is the name for the work that you do to earn money. For example,

David has now got a new job. He is a cook in a small restaurant.

In this example, we now know exactly what David does because we know what his job is. To summarise, we can say that the word job refers to a particular employment role or position, such as cook, teacher or banker, whereas work refers in a more general way to activities that you do.

Interestingly, all jobs involve work but doing work isn’t always part of a job. For example, someone can spend the weekend working in their garden, perhaps cutting the grass or planting new flowers. However, this is a free time activity, and so it is not his or her job.

As a verb, work does have other meanings, such as, if you describe how a machine works, you explain how it functions, or operates. For example,

Can someone show me how the photocopier works? I don’t know how to use it.

Similarly, you can use it to say if the machine is functioning correctly. For example,

Don’t try to use that computer. It doesn’t work. We are waiting for the engineer to fix it.

Finally, although your job is the name for what you do to earn money, it can also refer to a specific task that you have to do; a task that requires work and a task that you can specifically identify. For example,

I have a few jobs to do at home this weekend. I need to paint my bedroom, fix a broken door and cut the grass.

Right, well, I’ve been working hard for the last few hours, so I think it’s time for me to take a break. Fortunately, the work that I do in my job is very interesting, so even though it is hard work, I don’t think I will look for another job! What about you, Giuliana? Are you a student or do you have a job? Whatever you do, is it hard work?


About Gareth Rees

Gareth Rees

Gareth Rees has a BA (hons) in History and Philosophy of Science, CTEFLA, and DELTA. He has taught EFL, EAP and Business English in China, Spain and England, and he is the co-author of the Language Leader Elementary and Pre-Intermediate English language course books (Pearson Longman). He currently teaches English in the Language Centre at the University of the Arts, London.

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