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

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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

However, the 22-year-old has had difficulty in finding a new club after demanding £77,000-per-week, German newspaper Bild reports. SI.com, "Max Meyer Could Move to Turkey After Being Rejected By Liverpool and Arsenal Due to Wage Demands," 13 July 2018 Like Sweden, Americans have devalued parenting, and specifically motherhood, and are creating emotionally impoverished young people who have difficulty in sustaining intimate relationships and functioning as independent adults. Erica Komisar, WSJ, "The Human Cost of Sweden’s Welfare State," 11 July 2018 The Justice Department has reported difficulties in finding some parents separated from their children. Ian Duncan, baltimoresun.com, "At least one of the youngest migrant children sent to Maryland will be reunited with family by court deadline," 10 July 2018 But the massive effort is complicated by difficulty in locating some parents and, in other cases, uncertainty about the parents’ identities. Maria Sacchetti, BostonGlobe.com, "Trump administration seeks to extend deadline for reuniting some migrant families," 6 July 2018 Given the city's recent difficulty in keeping steady leadership at the top, that may be significantly easier said than done. Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica, "Baltimore’s police department is a technological disaster," 29 June 2018 According to Newsflare, Santana has Usher syndrome, which is caused by an abnormal development of hair and sensory cells that affects a person’s ability to see and hear, and also causes difficulties in maintaining balance. Jason Duaine Hahn, PEOPLE.com, "Blind and Deaf Soccer Fan Celebrates Team's World Cup Victory with Help from Interpreter," 28 June 2018 Immigration lawyers have reported difficulties in locating parents on behalf of children, and children on behalf of their parents, due to negligence on the part of ICE when imprisoning migrants, language barriers, and other bureaucratic missteps. Vogue, "The Families Belong Together March Is on June 30: Everything You Need to Know," 27 June 2018 The difficulties in defining terrorism are well known. Stuart Macdonald, Scientific American, "How Tech Companies Are Trying to Disrupt Terrorist Social Media Activity," 26 June 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.

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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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technical difficulties

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Last Updated

3 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for difficulty

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

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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 \
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

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to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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