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 pluralfinancial 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 beauty of progress is that the difficulty curve geometrically decreases with persistence. Josh Linkner, Detroit Free Press, "New skill or project? The more you do it, the easier it becomes," 18 Jan. 2020 Several trekking companies based in the city offer trip and homestay packages of varying lengths, prices, and difficulty. National Geographic, "This Vietnamese national park is a spice lover’s dream," 18 Jan. 2020 Technical difficulties meant the Northern Kentucky/Indiana boys basketball team of the week ballot didn't make it to the original offering Monday. Melanie Laughman, Cincinnati.com, "Enquirer names Greater Cincinnati high school winter athletes of the week, Jan. 17," 17 Jan. 2020 The strategy — to neutralize Bush’s war advantage with Kerry’s war record — ran into difficulties. Mona Charen, National Review, "Will Democrats Choose Safety or Risk?," 17 Jan. 2020 Even before the game, the Seawolves encountered difficulties. Anchorage Daily News, "A challenging 8-day stretch begins with a bruising loss for the UAA men’s basketball team," 17 Jan. 2020 Increasing wage costs, restaurant oversupply and difficulty to find labor all hurt the sector. Bloomberg Wire, Dallas News, "KKR pushes for changes at Dave & Buster’s," 17 Jan. 2020 Leading the charge for me was lethargy similar to the flu, inability to see joy in anything, instantaneous irritability, headaches and difficulty making decisions. Matt Baer, The Hollywood Reporter, ""I Didn't Know What Was Happening to Me": Hollywood Pros Share Stories of Overcoming Depression and Anxiety," 17 Jan. 2020 In cheerleading, as in gymnastics, the upper difficulty level is being pushed higher at a thrilling and alarming rate. Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker, "The Pathos of “Cheer” and the Wild Deceptions of Cheerleading," 16 Jan. 2020

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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Learn More about difficulty

Time Traveler for difficulty

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for difficulty

Last Updated

22 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Difficulty.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/difficulty. Accessed 24 January 2020.

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More Definitions for difficulty


How to pronounce difficulty (audio)

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).


a feeling of well-being or elation

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