What is commute? Definition and examples

The verb to commute means to travel from home to work and from work to home. Billions of people across the world commute every day. We can also use the term when referring to teachers or students traveling to or from school.

Commute - commuters - commuting image for article 433
In large cities, most people commute by subway (UK: underground) or overland trains.

We don’t use the term if a person’s trip to work is extremely short. Typically, they travel outside the boundary of their community if they commute.

We also use the word as a noun, as in: “During my commute last week, I saw a man fall onto the railway track. Fortunately, he was pulled out before the next train came.”

To commute also means to reduce the severity of a judicial sentence. If I say: “The judge commuted his jail sentence,” it means that the person’s jail term was reduced.

This article focuses on the term when it refers to people traveling to or from work or school.


We call people who are on their way to work from home or vice-versa commuters. If I say: “The train was full of commuters,” it means that there were many people going to or returning from work.

A commuter train is a train full of people traveling to or from work.

LEXICO has the following definition of the term:

“Travel some distance between one’s home and place of work on a regular basis.”

When commute is not work-related

Less commonly, we can use the verb when traveling on a regular basis from one location to another, even when the trips are not related to work.

If Samantha visited her mother in hospital every day at 5pm for three months, we could say that she was commuting on her way there and back.

Commuting expenses

In business, commuting expenses is an expense claim, i.e., a perk, that some employers offer their employees for travel expenses to and from their workplace. A perk is a work benefit such as free meals, discounts, a company car, etc.

In accounting, an expense may refer to something that an employee paid for, and for which their employer will reimburse them.

Commuting expenses may also refer to a tax deduction that taxpayers may claim if they have to travel to a work site temporarily. Specifically, somewhere that is not their normal workplace.

Commute by bicycle - the Netherlands
In The Netherlands, commuting by bicycle is common.

The origins of ‘to commute’ and ‘commuter’

The term first appeared in the English language in the middle of the fifteenth century. At the time, it meant “to change (something into something else), to transform.” It came from the Latin word Commutare, which meant “to often change, to change altogether.”

Regarding the meaning “traveling to/from work to/from home,” the term originated in the United States. Wikipedia says the following regarding the origin of commuter:

“The word commuter derives from early days of rail travel in US cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, where, in the 1840s, the railways engendered suburbs from which travelers paying a reduced or ‘commuted’ fare into the city. Later, the back formations “commute” and “commuter” were coined therefrom.”