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

Example Sentences

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 For those who continue to have difficulty sleeping, Bhopal says cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia may help. Janelle Chavez, CNN, 25 Jan. 2023 Some people closer to the incident may also have difficulty sleeping or be jittery. Los Angeles Times, 24 Jan. 2023 As a result, such startups will spend too much time creating these features and will have tremendous difficulty marketing them. Igor Ryabenkiy, Forbes, 24 Jan. 2023 The driver had difficulty maintaining his balance during field sobriety tests and was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. cleveland, 21 Jan. 2023 But the Cavaliers often have difficulty putting teams away thanks to lengthy scoring droughts. Eddie Timanus, USA TODAY, 20 Jan. 2023 When the ground is covered in snow, snowshoes give you the ability to move across the powder without difficulty. Déjà Leonard, Popular Mechanics, 19 Jan. 2023 Defense lawyers contacted by Variety predicted that the state will have difficulty meeting that standard. Gene Maddaus, Variety, 19 Jan. 2023 Liquid formulations are easier to take for children, some of whom might have difficulty swallowing capsules. Alena Naiden, Anchorage Daily News, 14 Jan. 2023 See More

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.

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 1 Feb. 2023.

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

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Fashionable Words

  • dog-sunglasses-scarf
  • Which of these items is named for a deadly weapon?
Name That Thing

You know what it looks like… but what is it called?

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?