di·​lem·​ma də-ˈle-mə How to pronounce dilemma (audio)
 also  dī-
: a usually undesirable or unpleasant choice
faces this dilemma: raise interest rates and slow the economy or lower them and risk serious inflation
: a situation involving such a choice
here am I brought to a very pretty dilemma; I must commit murder or commit matrimonyGeorge Farquhar
broadly : predicament
lords and bailiffs were in a terrible dilemma G. M. Trevelyan
: a problem involving a difficult choice
the dilemma of "liberty versus order"J. M. Burns
: a difficult or persistent problem
unemployment … the great central dilemma of our advancing technologyAugust Heckscher
: an argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives against an opponent
ˌdi-lə-ˈma-tik How to pronounce dilemma (audio)
 also  ˌdī-
Usage of Dilemma

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Before his last parole hearing, a year later, Mr. Phillips told New York magazine of his dilemma. Robert D. McFadden, BostonGlobe.com, 10 Sep. 2023 With this dilemma in mind, conservatives must consider two questions. Caleb Nunes, National Review, 8 Sep. 2023 The parent’s dilemma fits readily into a Winnicottian framework: the child losing control over his mother begins to steal, and the parents losing control over their child begin to hover and meddle. Jessica Winter, The New Yorker, 5 Sep. 2023 David found himself in a seemingly impossible dilemma: the mover bailed out and canceled the job at the last moment. Jon Stojan, USA TODAY, 23 Aug. 2023 This all created a gigantic policy dilemma for Google, which, like every other AI company, is busily scraping the entire web to train its AI systems. Nilay Patel, The Verge, 22 Aug. 2023 In an era marked by the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), businesses are increasingly presented with both unprecedented opportunities and ethical dilemmas. Rolling Stone Culture Council, Rolling Stone, 22 Aug. 2023 Clinicians need to navigate ethical dilemmas unique to alternative therapies, such as the potential for substance misuse. 4. Sonia Singh, Rolling Stone, 24 Aug. 2023 In theory, a land bank could help resolve this dilemma. Giacomo Bologna, Baltimore Sun, 22 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'dilemma.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1523, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of dilemma was in 1523

Dictionary Entries Near dilemma

Cite this Entry

“Dilemma.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dilemma. Accessed 21 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


di·​lem·​ma də-ˈlem-ə How to pronounce dilemma (audio)
 also  dī-
: a situation in which one has to choose between two or more things, ways, or plans that are equally unsatisfactory : a difficult choice

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