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 San Diego real estate analyst and consultant Gary London agreed with the potential, and the degree of difficulty. Michael Smolens Columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: San Diego is still trying to become a “City of Villages”," 30 Apr. 2021 Related Coverage Part of the difficulty in tackling ransomware is that the gangs are often located in jurisdictions that don’t have extradition agreements with the U.S., Mr. Reiner said. James Rundle, WSJ, "Ransomware Now Seen as Threat to National Security," 29 Apr. 2021 After landing with Perseverance on Mars in February, Ingenuity has successfully and autonomously attempted three experimental flights, all with various degrees of difficulty. Julia Musto, Fox News, "Ingenuity Mars helicopter captures Perseverance rover in unprecedented aerial shot," 29 Apr. 2021 However, one of the most critical mistakes entrepreneurs make in times of difficulty is sticking to methods that aren’t working and refusing to think critically about alternative solutions. Fatos Ameti, Forbes, "How Outsourcing Can Be An Effective Solution For Startups," 27 Apr. 2021 The pandemic has added another level of difficulty to the transition since Schmedding can’t have the face-to-face interactions that help build relationships right now. al, "Chance to follow Bryan Harsin to Auburn a ‘slam dunk’ for Jeff Schmedding," 24 Apr. 2021 After delaying the ceremony and expanding the eligibility window through February, the 93rd Academy Awards will press on with a mostly in-person ceremony, one where the logistics have an inordinately high degree of difficulty. Brian Lowry, CNN, "Oscars 2021: Small movies and potential firsts define a strange year as award shows limp to the finish," 23 Apr. 2021 Notable, especially considering the degree of difficulty on his shots would make the Russian judge hold up bold numbers on her scorecard. Gordon Monson, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Gordon Monson: The Utah Jazz have a luxury — two sixth men, their Frick and their Frack, Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles," 23 Apr. 2021 The stats show if shots are contested, but shots are not rated on degree of difficulty, like Olympic figure-skating jumps. Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle, "'He is human, but barely': Warriors' Steph Curry dazzles in ways analytics can't measure," 21 Apr. 2021

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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Time Traveler for difficulty

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

6 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Difficulty.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/difficulty. Accessed 14 May. 2021.

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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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