noun co·nun·drum \kə-ˈnən-drəm\

Definition of conundrum

  1. 1 :  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.”)

  2. 2a :  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 Caterb :  an intricate and difficult problem He is faced with the conundrum of trying to find a job without having experience.

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Examples of conundrum in a sentence

  1. … 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. the conundrum of how an ancient people were able to build such massive structures without the benefit of today's knowledge and technology

Did You Know?

The exact origin of conundrum isn't known with certainty. What is known is that the word has been in use since the early 1600s, and that it had various spellings, such as conimbrum, quonundrum, conuncrum, and quadundrum, before the current spelling was finally established sometime in the mid-17th 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.

Origin and Etymology of conundrum

origin unknown

First Known Use: 1645

CONUNDRUM Defined for English Language Learners


noun co·nun·drum \kə-ˈnən-drəm\

Definition of conundrum for English Language Learners

  • : a confusing or difficult problem

CONUNDRUM Defined for Kids


noun co·nun·drum \kə-ˈnən-drəm\

Definition of conundrum for Students

  1. :  1riddle 1

Seen and Heard

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capable of being understood in two ways

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