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.”

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sets specific conditions and guidelines for which commuting costs can be considered deductible, ensuring that only the necessary expenses incurred during the commute for temporary work assignments qualify.

Derivatives of “commute”

In the English language, there are many derivatives of the root word “commute.,” i.e., there are many terms that have “commute” as their root word. Let’s have a look at some of them:

  • Commute (verb)

To travel regularly over some distance, as from a suburb into a city and back.
For example: “He commutes to work every day by train.”

  • Commuter (noun)

A person who commutes, especially from home to work and back.
For example: “She is a regular commuter on the 8 AM bus.”

  • Commutability (noun)

The quality of being commutable or exchangeable.
For example: “The commutability of the sentences allowed for a reduction in his prison term.”

  • Commuter belt (noun)

An area surrounding a large city where many people who work in that city live.
For example: “The property prices in the commuter belt are often high due to demand.”

  • Commutation (noun)

The act of substituting one thing for another; in law, the substitution of a lesser punishment for a greater one.
For example: “The commutation of her sentence was a relief to her family.”

  • Commutative law (noun)

A fundamental law of many algebraic structures which states that the order of certain operations, such as addition or multiplication, does not affect the end result.
For example: “The commutative law allows us to add numbers in any order.”

  • Commutator (noun)

A device for reversing the direction of flow of electric current; in mathematics, an operator indicating the difference between a product and the product with the factors reversed.
For example: “The motor’s commutator had to be replaced due to wear.”

  • Commuting (adjective)

Pertaining to the act of commuting, often used to describe travel or expenses.
For example: “He was reading a commuting magazine during his journey.”

  • Commutated (adjective)

Modified, exchanged, or substituted.
For example: “The commutated value of the annuity was paid out in a lump sum.”

  • Commutating (adjective)

Relating to the process of commutation or the action of a commutator.
For example: “The engineer was checking the commutating equipment for faults.”

  • Commutative (adjective)

Pertaining to exchange or substitution.
For example: “In mathematics, addition is a commutative operation.”

  • Commutatively (adverb)

In a manner that denotes or relates to a commutative property.
For example: “The numbers can be multiplied commutatively.”

Compound phrases with “commute”

A compound word is a term that consists of two or more words. “Commuter train,” for example, is a compound word. Let’s look at five compound phrases that contain the word “commute”:

  • Commute time

The duration of one’s travel from home to work or vice versa.
For example: “Her commute time is nearly an hour each way.”

  • Commute route

The specific path or road taken to travel between home and work.
For example: “He prefers the scenic commute route along the river.”

  • Commute distance

The length of the journey one must take to get to work from home.
For example: “The commute distance affects his choice of transport.”

  • Commute traffic

The flow and amount of vehicles or passengers during commuting hours.
For example: “Commute traffic is heaviest during the mornings and evenings.”

  • Commute costs

The expenses incurred while traveling to and from work.
For example: “She tries to minimize her commute costs by using public transportation.”

Videos – What Does Commute Mean?

This educational video featured on our partner YouTube channel, Marketing Business Network, explains the meaning of ‘Commute’ utilizing easy-to-understand language and straightforward examples.