dilemma

noun
di·lem·ma | \də-ˈle-mə also dī- \

Definition of dilemma 

1a : a usually undesirable or unpleasant choice faces this dilemma: raise interest rates and slow the economy or lower them and risk serious inflation

b : a situation involving such a choice here am I brought to a very pretty dilemma; I must commit murder or commit matrimony— George Farquhar broadly : predicament lords and bailiffs were in a terrible dilemma — G. M. Trevelyan

2a : a problem involving a difficult choice the dilemma of "liberty versus order"— J. M. Burns

b : a difficult or persistent problem unemployment … the great central dilemma of our advancing technology— August Heckscher

3 : an argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives against an opponent

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Other Words from dilemma

dilemmatic \ˌdi-lə-ˈma-tik also -ˌdī- \ adjective

Usage of Dilemma: Usage Guide

Although some commentators insist that dilemma be restricted to instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory, their concern is misplaced; the unsatisfactoriness of the options is usually a matter of how the author presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make. The use of such adjectives as terrible, painful, and irreconcilable suggests that dilemma is losing some of its unpleasant force.

Examples of dilemma in a Sentence

When it comes to the boss, there is a real dilemma. You're caught between a career-limiting rejection of virtual friendship or a career-limiting access to photos of yourself glassy-eyed at a party. — Jared Sandberg, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 2007 What's a pampered 20-something to do when her rich fiancé goes on a business trip and comes back married to someone else? That's the dilemma facing Elle Medina in Nichols's delightfully silly, vivacious debut. Publishers Weekly, 28 June 2004 Both authors are prepared to dwell as long on the savor of a ripe melon as on the significance of a moral dilemma. — Roger Shattuck, New York Review of Books, 13 June 2002 The country's decision to go to war has caused a major dilemma for its allies. We're facing a terrible dilemma. I don't know what to do; it's a real dilemma.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The deal also illustrates the dilemma facing large mining companies, which often sink billions of dollars into projects in far-flung places only to face unpredictable laws and yearslong battles. Amrith Ramkumar, WSJ, "Indonesia Moves Closer to Taking Controlling Stake in Freeport Copper Mine," 12 July 2018 Yet such violence comes at a huge cost, and therein lies the dilemma. Larry Stone, The Seattle Times, "Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor’s departure elicits feelings of admiration, guilt," 3 July 2018 Eastman, one of Medicare-for-all’s most notable champions so far in 2018, described the dilemma perfectly. Dylan Scott, Vox, "The “pleasant ambiguity” of Medicare-for-all in 2018, explained," 2 July 2018 The Roma shot stopper had been heavily linked with a move to Anfield this summer after being labelled by many as the man to solve the Red's goalkeeping dilemma. SI.com, "James Pearce Provides Update on Liverpool's Goalkeeper Hunt as Alisson Talk Continues," 25 June 2018 That was the dilemma of Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection. Loren A. Yadon, idahostatesman, "In these trying times, return to Jesus and the simplicity of faith for renewal," 12 July 2018 That was the dilemma facing one Northern California couple this weekend, as the massive and destructive Klamathon Fire raged not far from a wedding venue built specifically for their nuptials. Michael Mcgough, sacbee, "A California couple wed with a massive wildfire burning behind them. Then, they ran," 9 July 2018 There are practical ways of resolving the administration’s family-detention dilemma. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Renews Call for Deporting Refugees Without Due Process," 5 July 2018 The subject is still a dilemma for Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist, who on Tuesday is set to play against Switzerland in what is likely his last World Cup at the age of 33. Graham Dunbar, The Seattle Times, "World Cup players juggle national team and fatherhood," 2 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dilemma.' 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 dilemma

1523, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for dilemma

Late Latin, from Late Greek dilēmmat-, dilēmma, probably back-formation from Greek dilēmmatos involving two assumptions, from di- + lēmmat-, lēmma assumption — more at lemma

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Phrases Related to dilemma

on the horns of a dilemma

Statistics for dilemma

Last Updated

17 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for dilemma

The first known use of dilemma was in 1523

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More Definitions for dilemma

dilemma

noun

English Language Learners Definition of dilemma

: a situation in which you have to make a difficult choice

dilemma

noun
di·lem·ma | \də-ˈle-mə \

Kids Definition of dilemma

: a situation in which a person has to choose between things that are all bad or unsatisfactory He was faced with the dilemma of having to tell on his best friend, or not telling and getting blamed himself.

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