dif·​fi·​cul·​ty | \ ˈdi-fi-(ˌ)kəl-tē How to pronounce difficulty (audio) \
plural difficulties

Definition of difficulty

1 : the quality or state of being hard to do, deal with, or understand : the quality or state of being difficult underestimated the difficulty of the task has difficulty reading climbs stairs with difficulty
2 : controversy, disagreement unable to resolve their difficulties
3 : objection made no difficulty in granting the request
4 : something difficult : impediment encountering difficulties along the way
5 : embarrassment, trouble usually used in plural financial difficulties

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Examples of difficulty in a Sentence

She underestimated the difficulty of saving so much money. the many difficulties that he encountered on the road from poor orphan to head of a major corporation

Recent Examples on the Web

The Spartans had difficulty adjusting to Fillmore’s blitzing, committing three second-half turnovers that the Flashes converted into three touchdowns. Charles Rich, La Cañada Valley Sun, "La Cañada football overwhelmed by steady Fillmore," 13 Sep. 2019 Three soldiers, including a doctor, have difficulty adjusting to life at home following a long and difficult tour of duty in Iraq. Los Angeles Times, "Movies on TV this week Sept. 15, 2019: ‘Alien,’ ‘Aliens’ and more," 13 Sep. 2019 If there is one area where society has had some difficulty adapting to a space where cannabis products are legal and readily available is many people still do not have a grip on how to properly use edibles. Mike Adams, chicagotribune.com, "Are there any downsides to marijuana legalization?," 11 Sep. 2019 Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive anxiety over a number of different factors and can manifest themselves in symptoms like feeling restless, being on-edge, having difficulty concentrating and irritation. Christina Oehler, Health.com, "Aaron Carter Reveals He Has Multiple Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, and Bipolar Disorder on 'The Doctors'," 11 Sep. 2019 With lupus, your body’s immune system has difficulty telling the difference between foreign invaders (like bacteria and viruses) and healthy tissue, which leads to inflammation and pain in various parts of your body. Azmia Magane, Allure, "What Is Lupus? 11 Things to Know About the Misunderstood Autoimmune Disease," 7 Sep. 2019 Those who live in the Alberta Park Estates off Brainard Road have difficulty entering and exiting the development from Alberta Drive, and sometimes from Falkirk Road. cleveland.com, "Brainard Road traffic in Lyndhurst ‘getting to be a big problem’," 7 Sep. 2019 The development bring Opendoor a step closer to being able to provide customers end-to-end services, something traditional brokerages have had more difficulty doing. R.a. Schuetz, Houston Chronicle, "Opendoor moves into title and escrow, RedfinNow to San Antonio," 6 Sep. 2019 The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco’s Week 1 opponent, had difficulty stopping power rushers in 2018, allowing 71 percent of runs on third or fourth down with two yards or less to go to achieve a first down or touchdown. Neil Greenberg, The Denver Post, "Fantasy football start/sit Week 1: Austin Ekeler up, Julio Jones down," 5 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'difficulty.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of difficulty

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for difficulty

Middle English difficulte, borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French difficulté, borrowed from Latin difficultāt-, difficultās, from difficilis "hard to do, troublesome, intractable" (from dif-, probably assimilated form of dis- dis- + facilis "easy, accommodating") + -tāt-, -tās -ty — more at facile

Note: Latin difficultās presumably goes back to *dis-fakli-tāts and follows the same path as the base word, from *faklitāts to attested facultās (see faculty), with regular vowel weakening in a non-initial syllable. The word difficilis is derivationally peculiar, as the prefix dis- is regularly applied only to verbs and is not primarily privative—the expected negative counterpart to facilis should have been *infacilis. It has been hypothesized that dis- in this case is a permutation of *dus-, corresponding to Greek dys- "bad, ill" (see dys-; *dus- is otherwise unattested in Latin), or that difficilis is modeled on dissimilis "unlike" (see dissimilar; the adjective similis "like" takes a range of ordinarily verbal prefixes, perhaps following Greek equivalents). Neither solution is entirely satisfactory.

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Statistics for difficulty

Last Updated

17 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for difficulty

The first known use of difficulty was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for difficulty



English Language Learners Definition of difficulty

: the quality of something that makes it hard to do : the difficult nature of something
: something that is not easy to do or to deal with : a difficult situation
: a disagreement in opinion


dif·​fi·​cul·​ty | \ ˈdi-fi-ˌkəl-tē How to pronounce difficulty (audio) \
plural difficulties

Kids Definition of difficulty

1 : the state of being hard to do the difficulty of a task
2 : great effort He solved the puzzle with difficulty.
3 : something that makes something hard to do : obstacle She overcame great difficulties to achieve success.
4 : a troublesome situation She saw a way out of the difficulty.

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Comments on difficulty

What made you want to look up difficulty? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to make a temporary encampment

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