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.")

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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 As with other issues during Johnson’s first year, the question touches on the conundrum of his jump from underdog mayoral candidate to chief executive. A.d. Quig, Chicago Tribune, 12 May 2024 That is the conundrum at the heart of the creator economy. Alex Weprin, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for conundrum 

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 22 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


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

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