dif·​fi·​cul·​ty ˈdi-fi-(ˌ)kəl-tē How to pronounce difficulty (audio)
plural difficulties
: 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
: controversy, disagreement
unable to resolve their difficulties
: objection
made no difficulty in granting the request
: something difficult : impediment
encountering difficulties along the way
: embarrassment, trouble
usually used in plural
financial difficulties

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 Lawrence testified about how juveniles tend toward impulsivity and how a youth would have difficulty handling a highly emotional situation like an active shooter event. Nathan Pilling, Kansas City Star, 21 May 2024 Election officials — from secretaries of state to poll workers — have faced hostility and abuse after Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election, leading to resignations and difficulty recruiting and retaining staff members and volunteers. Eileen Sullivan, New York Times, 19 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for difficulty 

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

Word History


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.

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near difficulty

Cite this Entry

“Difficulty.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/difficulty. Accessed 26 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


dif·​fi·​cul·​ty ˈdif-ə-(ˌ)kəl-tē How to pronounce difficulty (audio)
plural difficulties
: difficult nature
the difficulty of a task
: great effort
walked with difficulty
: something that is hard to do : obstacle
overcome difficulties
: a difficult or trying situation : trouble
in financial difficulties
: a disagreement in opinion
we ironed out our difficulties

More from Merriam-Webster on difficulty

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