• To work hard at something; to toil over tasks
  • To move agitatedly or in turmoil
  • To make grimy or to dampen


  • Difficult or strenuous work
  • Chaos or commotion


Sometimes we get to work for pleasure; other times, our duties feel more like a slog through quicksand. To moil is never fun, and oftentimes the results are simply not what we expect. Putting your nose to the grindstone is but one of the several factors that augur success, and often our best work results from those tasks we deem more than just thankless moil.

Moil is a relatively rare word that, in its verb form, most often describes the act of working hard over something. Generally, to moil is not a pleasant experience; someone caught up in this act of drudgery is slaving over a difficult, demanding, or tedious work, often for the sake of minimal results. Although the word is theoretically neutral and can be used in any context, to moil usually refers to work that is not undertaken by choice. You're more likely to moil in response to instructions in a faceless memo from your boss than out of the thrill of doing something for which you have a passion. Moil can also be used as a noun to describe this kind of back-breaking toil.

An even more uncommon (if that's possible) use of the verb moil refers to the act of moving in a rapid, disorderly manner. To moil in this way implies a sense of utter confusion and deep-set turbidity. Like blowing through a straw to make bubbles in a glass of chocolate milk (if you've ever been four, you've done it), making something moil results in quick, unpredictable movement and a troublesome level of commotion - especially when your glass overflows and you get Yoo-Hoo all over the tablecloth. This use of moil can be either literal or figurative, implying either actual movement or an overall sense of confusion and chaos. Similarly, moil is sometimes applied as a noun to refer to turmoil.

Finally, to moil can also describe the act of sullying something. To moil in this sense can refer to actually making something dirty, as by throwing mud on your little sister, or to figuratively soiling something, as by opening your sister's mint-condition Barbie doll and getting fingerprints on it (it happens). This application of moil is especially apt when describing the act of moistening or splashing water on something.

Example: After having to moil through a seemingly endless progression of meetings, Robert was more than happy to leave work for the day.

Example: Greta devoted her mornings to moil in the gym's weight room.

Example: The boat's propeller caused the water to moil.

Example: Afraid to moil my new shoes, I took a valiant leap over the mud puddle.


The roots of moil can be traced back to the Latin word mollis, which means "soft" and "pliable." This noun morphed into a verb in the form of the Vulgar Latin molliare; from here, the next step was into the old French moillier, which meant "to dampen, make wet" (the idea of moistening something, to make it softer, being a possible connection). The word later appeared in Middle English as the verb mollen. Moil is believed to have been in use as a verb in modern English since at least the fifteenth century, and the term's first use as a noun is attributed to the early 1610s.

Derivative Words

Moiled: The preterit form of the verb moil describes a past action of hard work or turgid movement.

Example: The accountant moiled for hours over spreadsheets.

Moiling: This form is often used as an adjective to describe something as either demanding hard labor or being in turmoil. Moiling can also be used as a noun to describe a state of turbulence or the act of working hard.

Example: Dead leaves were tossed about by the moiling winds.

Moils: The third-person present tense form of moil is used to describe working hard or significant agitation of a singular subject.

Example: The farmer moils in the fields every day, travailing to maintain his crops.

Moiler: This noun describes a person who works hard or who dirties something.

Example: The policeman hunched over in his squad car, eager to catch the moiler who had been egging houses at night.

Similar Words

Moil or Toil: Similar in both spelling and meaning to moil is toil, a word also used to describe long, demanding work. The textbooks definitions of both words are extremely alike, and they can be technically used interchangeably. However, in everyday use, toil (the more common of the two) often specifically implies a sense of selflessness or heroics, while moil is more likely to indicate something tedious or tiresome. You'd likely moil over paperwork and toil to make money to send your daughter to college.

In Literature

From Robert W. Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee":

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;

Here, moil refers to the laboring of men searching for gold in the far American North.


  • Moil is to toil


    Labor Day, Work, Confusion, Wet

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of moil. Did you use moil in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.