Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


done or doing something very slowly and carefully

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The adjective painstaking is a combination of the noun ‘pain’ or ‘pains’ and the present participle of the verb ‘take’. It has been in use since the 17th century and was modelled on an earlier noun, also ‘painstaking’, which is no longer used.


I have seen comments on social media recently from people who had thought the adjective painstaking was a combination of ‘pain’ and ‘staking’, from the verb ‘to stake’. While this is not a confusion that I remember ever having, it’s easy to see how it might happen; and while the voiced /z/ sound in the middle of the word indicates that it can’t be anything to do with ‘staking’, we often only see words like this written down. In fact the adjective is closely related to the expression to take pains to do something, where pains means care or trouble. This plural form of the noun occurs in other fixed expressions: if you are at pains to do something you try very hard to do it, while for your pains is used when emphasizing that you have not been properly rewarded for your efforts. The example given is ‘All she got for her pains was a faint smile.’ Painstaking has a related adverb, painstakingly. This is currently an entry in the Open Dictionary, submitted in 2017; it’s probably due for promotion to full entry status, not least because it is just as frequent as the adjective.


Her command of language is impeccable – professional, literate, with the kind of painstaking craftsmanship that makes the flow of words seem easy.
(enTenTen15 corpus)

The work is laborious, painstaking, and intricate.
(enTenTen15 corpus)

Much of the archive footage has been painstakingly restored and rescued from unsuitable and damaging conditions.
(enTenTen15 corpus)

Related Words

careful, cautious, meticulous, thorough

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.


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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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