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

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 Anyone that displays symptoms — including a fever, chills, a cough or difficulty breathing — can't get on. Daniela Sirtori-cortina, CNN, "Going on a cruise? Here's how the coronavirus will change your trip," 7 Feb. 2020 Symptoms are thought to appear within two to 14 days after exposure and consist of fever, cough, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. Stephanie Innes, azcentral, "New details released about Arizona coronavirus patient," 7 Feb. 2020 The symptoms of 2019-nCoV are respiratory infection, cough, difficulty breathing, and fever, according to the CDC. Popular Science, "Wuhan’s new hospitals are sorely needed, but they won’t stop the spread of disease," 4 Feb. 2020 Guests or crew members with fever, chills, cough or difficulty breathing will not be allowed on board, the company said in a statement to CBS News. Megan Cerullo, CBS News, "Traveled to China lately? Forget going on a cruise," 3 Feb. 2020 There is no vaccine for the virus, which causes symptoms including fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. Bailey Loosemore, The Courier-Journal, "There aren't any coronavirus cases in Kentucky, but that hasn't stopped fear from spreading," 3 Feb. 2020 Both viruses start off similarly: cough, fever, and in some cases difficulty breathing. Michelle Cortez, BostonGlobe.com, "There’s another virus stalking America: It’s called the flu," 31 Jan. 2020 Those who contract this strain report fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, "What It’s Like to Try to Get Treatment for the Coronavirus in China," 28 Jan. 2020 Symptoms of the virus include runny nose, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat and fever and, in some patients, life-threatening pneumonia. Leada Gore | Lgore@al.com, al, "Tennessee Tech student being tested for coronavirus," 25 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.

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

Time Traveler for difficulty

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for difficulty

Last Updated

19 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Difficulty.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/difficulty. Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

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.

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).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

More Confusing Words—Quiz

  • cats on impossible timber
  • The magician ______ moved the selected card to the top of the deck.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

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!