dif·​fi·​cul·​ty | \-(ˌ)kəl-tē \
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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Hopes have been dashed before by the technical difficulty of draining the caves of water to enable a search. James Hookway, WSJ, "Thai Rescuers Push Further Into Flooded Cave in Search for Missing Boys," 1 July 2018 Greater Cincinnati also boasts a very vibrant social and cultural community that rivals that of any big city without the difficulties of getting around that often occur in the larger cities. Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati.com, "Greater Cincinnati Collegiate Connection Scholarship Essay Contest 2018 “Why Greater Cincinnati?”," 22 June 2018 For her part, Rodriguez has been vocal about the difficulties of paying off student loans. EW.com, "Gina Rodriguez is using Emmy money to send an undocumented student to college," 19 June 2018 People are talking about the difficulty that exists for anyone to get through. Heran Mamo, Billboard, "Germaine Franco Talks Scoring 'Tag' & The Lack of Female Composers in Hollywood: 'It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's Made of Cement'," 14 June 2018 The difficulty in this case is that no one really knows what the deals to end this conflict are going to look like. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Can the US-China trade war be stopped? 11 experts weigh in.," 8 July 2018 Senators' questions during the Wednesday hearing could indicate issues that will give Sprint and T-Mobile difficulty in getting the merger approved. Mark Davis, kansascity, "How to watch Sprint and T-Mobile execs pitch their merger to Congress on Wednesday," 25 June 2018 Just as women from Hollywood to academia have spoken out, the sports journalists are highlighting the difficulties of working in what has traditionally been considered a man’s world and remains largely populated by men. Washington Post, "Female Brazilian sports journalists’ plea: Just let us work," 10 July 2018 Just as women from Hollywood to academia have spoken out, the sports journalists are highlighting the difficulties of working in what has traditionally been considered a man's world and remains largely populated by men. Yesica Fisch, The Christian Science Monitor, "Female Brazilian sports journalists say #LetHerWork without sexual harassment," 10 July 2018

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.

See More

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.

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about difficulty

Share difficulty

Statistics for difficulty

Last Updated

12 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for difficulty

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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 \
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.

Keep scrolling for more

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).


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Vocab Quiz

  • the-education-of-achilles-eugne-delacroix
  • Which is a synonym of discomfit?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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