What is the correct, common usage?

Can effortful be used in a complimentary way or does it more closely align with words like laboured that often, (but not always) have neutral or negative connotations.

  • It's not a common word, and has not developed any connotations beyond the literal meaning.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 14, 2017 at 13:24
  • I think it is mostly used in technical/academic writing, with a purely literal meaning.
    – Colin
    May 15, 2017 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


It has a terrible connotation: that the writer is using a vague neologism instead of searching for a more specific synonym.

If you want to praise the subject for the amount of effort, use diligent. If you intend to highlight the difficulty of the task, use laborious.

If you are not the writer but the reader, find a better writer to read.

  • I agree with @Malvolio. Contrast "extreme lucidity and elegance of his style" with "the more effortful, but intensely earnest, prose" 1. Good writer's make reading a joy, not an activity requiring great effort. Jun 14, 2017 at 19:30
  • More on word-choice: extreme means on the edge, so what is his lucidity on the edge of? elegance is an attribute of style so "elegance of style" is pleonastic. It should be just "his lucidity and elegance contrast markedly with the more laborious, but intensely earnest, prose". I love "intensely earnest"... Jun 14, 2017 at 20:39

A Google Ngram suggests the word has no common usage as it is fairly new in printed works. Use to the word in contexts seem to indicate specific special uses, as in the very specific "Effortful Control" .
I would be very careful in using the word. Which is to say, I probably would not use it.

  • Oh ok, I came across it used negatively in literary criticism and it stuck in my mind as I don't think I've come across it before but I just searched the word again and it seems to be used mostly in psychology as a term for a particular phenomenon.
    – Effortful
    Feb 14, 2017 at 12:55
  • I'm glad you came to an effortful solution.
    – J. Taylor
    Feb 14, 2017 at 13:10
  • @Effortful In the context of literary criticism, it refers specifically to the difficulty of reading the book, so it's a negative. But it could conceivably be used in other contexts regarding an admirable amount of effort put into something.
    – Barmar
    Feb 14, 2017 at 20:03
  • It also has an overtone of suggesting a lack of success in spite of effort--a classroom "E for Effort". (informal)
    – Xanne
    Jun 14, 2017 at 19:30

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