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 For over a year, the Cruel Intentions star, 49, suffered through intense pain and physical struggles from MS, including having difficulty speaking and losing the ability to fully use her left leg. Benjamin Vanhoose, PEOPLE.com, 15 Oct. 2021 More concerning for a firm seeking to take market share, Allbirds is having difficulty drawing new customers to its brand. David Trainer, Forbes, 5 Oct. 2021 One year the Marauders were having difficulty with a ball boy quickly bringing the ball on the field after punts and kickoffs. Don Norcross, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 Sep. 2021 But if the kicker keeps missing kicks, and if a key blocker keeps having difficulty with the drug policy, and if the sled keeps wreaking havoc with the coaching staff? Mike Finger, San Antonio Express-News, 16 Sep. 2021 At the time, in 2014, the Hmong American Women’s Association was having difficulty finding a new executive director. Sarah Volpenhein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 16 Sep. 2021 Planning an overland adventure can often be fraught with difficulty. Matt Crisara, Popular Mechanics, 4 Oct. 2021 The company said $10 million will be used to assist customers who are having difficulty paying their utility bills. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 4 Oct. 2021 The remaining $10 million will be used to assist customers who are having difficulty paying their utility bills. Stephen Singer, courant.com, 1 Oct. 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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The first known use of difficulty was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

21 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Difficulty.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/difficulty. Accessed 25 Oct. 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.

More from Merriam-Webster on difficulty

Nglish: Translation of difficulty for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of difficulty for Arabic Speakers


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