co·​nun·​drum kə-ˈnən-drəm How to pronounce conundrum (audio)
: an intricate and difficult problem
He is faced with the conundrum of trying to find a job without having experience.
: a question or problem having only a conjectural answer
… the political conundrums involved, particularly the problem of how the richer areas … can be made to subsidize the poorer.Douglass Cater
: a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun (as in "Why didn't the lost hikers starve in the desert? Because of the sand which is there.")

Did you know?

We can only conjecture the exact origin of conundrum. What is known is that the word has been in use since the 1600s, and that it had various spellings, such as conimbrum, quonundrum, conuncrum, and quadundrum, before the current spelling was finally established in the following century. One theory of origin suggests that the word was coined as a parody of Latin by students at Oxford University, where it appears to have enjoyed particular popularity in its "word play" or "pun" sense. While the prevalent sense in this century is that of the seemingly unanswerable question or problem, frequently applied to heady dilemmas involving ethics, sociology, or economics, the word is sometimes so loosely applied to anything enigmatic as to be synonymous with puzzle or mystery.

Examples of conundrum in a Sentence

… giving parents a wealth of educational options sometimes presents a familiar inner-city conundrum: What if all your choices are bad ones? Katherine Boo, New Yorker, 9 Apr. 2001
Mention of poor eyes and good eyes brings me to the creationist's favorite conundrum. What is the use of half an eye? Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, 1995
The explanation of this conundrum is to be heard, at this very moment, on certain surreptitious radio waves, on which the voice of the American convert Bilal is … transmuted into the thunderous speech of the Imam himself. Salman Rushdie, Harper's, December 1988
the conundrum of how an ancient people were able to build such massive structures without the benefit of today's knowledge and technology
Recent Examples on the Web Barra is now faced with the conundrum about what to do about Cruise. Bychristiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 20 Nov. 2023 Rife has often spoken about the conundrum of being a good looking comic—in his first special, on the Today show, and last week over a plate of spaghetti Bolognese in Lower Manhattan with me. Jessie Heyman, Vogue, 15 Nov. 2023 In a post to her Instagram Stories, Bird poked fun at the conundrum with a nod to Donna Kelce, who is known for her split NFL jerseys supporting sons Jason and Travis Kelce and their respective teams. Natasha Dye, Peoplemag, 10 Nov. 2023 Remote work slightly eases that conundrum, according to research using prepandemic data from economists at the University of Virginia and the University of Southern California. Emma Goldberg, New York Times, 18 Oct. 2023 Former delegate David Toscano, a Charlottesville Democrat who served as House minority leader until 2018 and was something of a mentor to Filler-Corn, said Bills is a conundrum for the Democratic establishment. Gregory S. Schneider, Washington Post, 1 Nov. 2023 The lack of pockets in women’s clothing is a true fashion conundrum. Kayla Blanton, Peoplemag, 28 Oct. 2023 And hovering over everything is the political conundrum of what happens to Gaza after the war ends. Steven Erlanger, New York Times, 24 Oct. 2023 In the onslaught, the assailants seized 199 hostages, Israeli officials say, presenting military planners with what may be their greatest conundrum in devising a battle plan. Laura King, Los Angeles Times, 18 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'conundrum.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


origin unknown

First Known Use

1645, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of conundrum was in 1645


Dictionary Entries Near conundrum

Cite this Entry

“Conundrum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


co·​nun·​drum kə-ˈnən-drəm How to pronounce conundrum (audio)

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