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You Have Work/a Job To Do

QUESTION:
Emiliano from Spain, and friend of the podcast, is reading a book in English and wants to know if the sentence “You have a job to do” is correct or if it should be “You have a work to do.”

ANSWER:
Both of these sentences are correct and commonly-used in English:
“You have a job to do.”
“You have work to do.”  (We would not say, “We have a work to do.”)

The reason we say “a job” and “work” (without the article “a”) is because “job” is a count noun and “work” is a mass noun.  A count noun allows you to put an article (“a” or “the”) in front of it or to put a number in front of it:  “a job,” “the job,” “one job,” “two jobs,” “three jobs,” etc.  Mass nouns, such as “work,” do not take an article (not “a work” or “the work) and we cannot say “one work,” “two works,” etc.

Both sentences — “You have a job to do.” and “You have work to do.” — mean about the same thing, that you have tasks or work that needs to be completed.  However, “a job” may sometimes be used to refer to a specific task, often something that you have already talked about or referred to earlier in the conversation or that both people know about.  Here are a couple of examples:
A:  “Firing (dismissing someone from his/her job) employees isn’t easy.”
B:  “No, it isn’t easy, but I have a job to do and I plan to do it.”

Lucy:  “Why are you working so late?”
Jeff:  “I have a job to do and I’m not leaving until it’s done.”

“You have work to do” can be used to refer to a specific task, but may also be used more generally to say that this person should be working, not doing something else, like having fun.
– “Why is everyone standing around?  You all have work to do.”

Lucy:  “Today is Friday. Why can’t we leave work early?”
Jeff:  “We have work to do.  This is no time to think about goofing off (playing or having fun when we should be working).”

Thanks to Emiliano for the question and I hope this is helpful.

~ Lucy

13 Responses to “You Have Work/a Job To Do”

  1. Fernanda Says:

    This is a very important question! Im brasilian and i always be confused about coun and mass nouns. the examples were very simple and easy to understand. Sometimes, i also have difficults with: what the right preposition to use and when/where i need to use. When im reading this blog i always read all the replies because i can learn with all kinf of writers! Thanks Dr Lucy and jeff.

  2. emiliano Says:

    Well, I have to say once again that “Lucy you are an incredible good teacher, to me the best together with Jeff”.
    Yes you are the one, till this moment never I have such a good explanation about these two words that seems so simple and easy as to be confused by so long time, years in fact.

    Now I could see also that the writer is a good one who knows a lot about his own lenguage, not me as to doub the appropriate use
    of the phrase in the context of the novel. It fits perfectly well having your good explanation.
    Sorry Mr. King you are a master of the language too, but I need to read you in English to see it, it´s so funny.

    Thank you very much Lucy, this is the best place to answer my question and I am very pleased if it could be useful for all of us.

  3. kuong do Says:

    I like your explaination, Lucy

  4. peter Says:

    You nailed it,

    good job

    I always think the world of you( very respectful thinking of sb, think very highly of someone). But I must keep it in perspective ( think logicaly,more sensible) and think the Galaxy of you :)))

    LUcy ,

    You know your stuff( you know alot about it) and you never strut your stuff( you do sth that you are good at as if you are proud of yourself)

  5. Rezaul Karim Says:

    Hi Lucy,

    How nicely you described count noun and mass noun or non-count noun. I really appreciate your simple way of teaching. Many non-native speakers commit mistake by using an article before ‘work’, but after going through this discussion they will get clear conception of why article ‘a’ or ‘the’ will not be used before ‘work’

    Again thank you Lucy for letting us know the difference.

    -Rezaul Karim
    Gurudaspur, Natore
    Bangladesh.

  6. Farahnaz Says:

    Thanks’ Lucy. Your clear explanation helped me even your examples. I had a question like that and I understand it now.

  7. Peter Says:

    Indeed , is praise worthy what u did :))
    conceret elaboration on the matter at hand you did Lucy,

    ur the best of best
    and Jeff is second best

  8. juan antonio lara Says:

    This explanation is so good. I can understand between count and mass noun.

  9. Nabil Says:

    How about (Homework) ! can we add (s) and say homeworks ?

  10. Tania Says:

    Hi! We know the rules but we always make mistakes. Thank you for “I’ll be more careful. Drive more carefully.”

    All the best for you all,

    Tania

  11. Ludo Says:

    When we use the article in front of “work”, so “a work” I’ve been said that it refers about what an artist/author produced.

    For example : a paint is a work, a book is a work, ESL Podcast is a work.

    Am I right?

    Cheers and keep up the good work (I didn’t understand or read English before I hear your Podcast)

  12. 108minutos Says:

    Thank you, Lucy Tse.

  13. rnwx Says:

    ohh who knows…

    ——————————————
    Nabil Says:
    June 23rd, 2010 at 11:06 am

    How about (Homework) ! can we add (s) and say homeworks ?