di·​lem·​ma | \ də-ˈle-mə How to pronounce dilemma (audio) 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

Other Words from dilemma

dilemmatic \ ˌdi-​lə-​ˈma-​tik How to pronounce dilemma (audio) also  ˌdī-​ \ adjective

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 The dilemma for many top advisors who do not have a next gen in place is to determine if an appropriate successor exists within their current firm and local market. Mindy Diamond, Forbes, 13 May 2022 The impacts of the yearslong drought on water supplies are growing across the state, as is the dilemma about how to address them. Michael Smolenscolumnist, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 May 2022 The dilemma our industry has created for the consumers is the selection and availability of the flowers is targeted to reach its peak around Mother’s Day. Chris Mckeown, The Enquirer, 30 Apr. 2022 The dilemma is the result of global supply chain issues coupled with an increase in demand for paper brought on by the pandemic, leaving ballot vendors worried about not getting their supply in time for the elections, the Las Vegas Sun reports. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 19 Apr. 2022 It’s not about being Chamberlain or Churchill; Zelensky’s dilemma is real and no one will pressure him to compromise or fight. Lahav Harkov, National Review, 15 Mar. 2022 The dilemma around coal and oil isn’t so much their availability as their impact on the planet and the EU’s world-leading climate policies. John Ainger, Fortune, 9 Mar. 2022 Another dilemma the couple faces in the film is Ball’s pregnancy with their second child, Desi Jr.. Los Angeles Times, 21 Dec. 2021 But the moral dilemma of booster banditry is more complicated than that. Rachel Gutman, The Atlantic, 13 Sep. 2021 See More

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.

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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The first known use of dilemma was in 1523

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Last Updated

20 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Dilemma.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dilemma. Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for dilemma


di·​lem·​ma | \ də-ˈle-mə How to pronounce dilemma (audio) \

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.

More from Merriam-Webster on dilemma

Nglish: Translation of dilemma for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of dilemma for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about dilemma


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