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 Zach Wilson, who had been so comfortable, so cool and efficient against opponents Navy, Troy, Louisiana Tech and UTSA, showed the same calm against these other Cougars, despite short spells of difficulty. Norma Gonzalez, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Gordon Monson: At last, BYU gets legitimacy in victory," 17 Oct. 2020 The rating and slope are an indication of difficulty. Mark Kazlowski, Dallas News, "Local links: New golf club overlooking Lake Ray Hubbard makes grand opening after two decades of work," 14 Oct. 2020 The play happened so fast, and so naturally, that the degree of difficulty on Kendrick's part might have seemed routine, almost easy. Star Tribune, "Eric Kendricks is a rock in the middle of Vikings defense," 10 Oct. 2020 The pandemic, Bukari said, has amplified the many problems his patients already had, from not having reliable transportation to medical visits, to losing their insurance or having difficulty getting approvals for treatment. Usha Lee Mcfarling, STAT, "‘They are really afraid’: Fears about Covid-19 are complicating care for patients with sickle cell," 17 Sep. 2020 Some patients have had difficulty getting insurance coverage for edaravone, which costs about $148,000 a year and was approved after a Phase 3 trial of the same size and duration as Centaur. Pam Belluck, New York Times, "2 College Students Dreamed Up an A.L.S. Treatment. The Results Are In.," 2 Sep. 2020 Culpo then tagged her doctor and explained that her doctor has told her stories about people having difficulty getting pregnant who may have had endometriosis that affected their fertility without them realizing it. Sarah Jacoby, SELF, "Olivia Culpo Reveals She Has Endometriosis—And Urges People to Take Painful Periods Seriously," 27 Aug. 2020 Jones said motorists leaving the campus, which is which is to the immediate north of the circle, were having difficulty getting out to the parkway, especially when commuters were returning to Pearland at the end of the workday. John Delapp, Houston Chronicle, "Pearland Parkway roundabout project stuck in neutral," 11 Aug. 2020 And when trying a new video game during a media Discord event, CNN Business observed other users using the wrong channel to ask for tech support and having difficulty getting the mic and audio to work. Shannon Liao, CNN, "Discord, a quarantine tech darling, raises another $100 million," 4 July 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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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

20 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Difficulty.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/difficulty. Accessed 29 Oct. 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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