I've seen this word 能者多劳 being used in multiple senses on the Internet:

  • One can interpret 劳 as a verb that means working, as in 劳动. Then it gives us able people (should) do more work, or loosely translates to "from each according to his ability".
    • Google translate has this translation verified by Translate Community.
  • Or one can interpret 劳 as an adjective that means tired, as in 劳累. Then it gives us able men are always busy.
    • Wiktionary defines it in this way.

Which interpretation is correct? Is there an authoritative answer, or is both interpretation acceptable?

5 Answers 5


In tradition Chinese meaning of 能者多勞 stated in dictionary owned by Ministry of education in Taiwan. It stated that.


(Originally means that people have great ability usually tired.)


(Later used to flatter other that he/she have great ability. That is to say, people with great ability who undertake more responsibility and usually feel more tired than normal people.)


I would say both interpretations are acceptable.

The more works(劳动) you have to do, the busier (劳累) you would get.

A good example in real life.

My sister can't cook, so my brother in law cooks all the meals for the family.

My sister can't drive long distance, so my brother in law has to drive when they need to go to far away place.

My sister's English is poor, so my brother in law does all the talking when they have to deal with English speakers.

He has to do more works because he has more abilities; he is also busier because he has to do more works.

IMO 多劳 means "work more" and "work more" make you "busier".

You can say 能者多劳 means "the more able man get more works and get busier".


能者多劳 = 有能力的人做更多的事

(That's why I don't have much to do!)


It means 'able people usually get more work and therefore more busy/tired'. The English equivalent would be 'With great power comes great responsibility.'

Usually used as a compliment like this:

A: I'm so tired of all this responsibility, why do I have to do so much? B: 能者多勞 right? That just means you're good at what you do.

  • But what if I interpret it in the other way, and then it's not a compliment at all, and in a way that's satirical: 能者多勞 right? You're so skillful, it's only fair if you should work more (than me). Is this interpretation possible?
    – zypA13510
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 12:46
  • It would be a sarcastic remark in compliment form
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 20:25
  • If you refer to yourself, then it's a rather narcissistic compliment, 'I'm good at what I do'. If someone refers to you, then yes it could be interpreted as a compliment or a sarcastic remark, though not malicious. Like Tang Ho said, sarcastic but still a compliment. 'I admit you're good at what you do, but stop shoving that fact into my face.' Commented Mar 18, 2020 at 7:29

With great power comes great responsibility.

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