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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from dilemma

dilemmatic \ ˌdi-​lə-​ˈma-​tik 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

Figuring out how best to spend your travel dollars is the most delicious dilemma of a life well lived. Klara Glowczewska, Town & Country, "The Best Places to Travel in 2019," 7 Dec. 2018 As pointed out by Bustle, the new bombs will officially solve the eternal dilemma of how to enjoy a bath bomb in the shower. Lauren Rearick, Teen Vogue, "Lush Created Shower Bombs," 26 Nov. 2018 Yet the two are often dangerously conflated, and in the case of the series, we’re left with a very unsettling dilemma. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, ""13 Reasons Why" Season 2's School Shooting Plot Presents a Dangerous "What If?"," 21 May 2018 Residents and others confronted village officials with that dilemma, prompting the village to reconsider its initial plans. Jim Riccioli, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Mukwonago finds new homes for beavers that diverted water," 16 May 2018 This leaves the Lib Dems with a Douglas Adams dilemma. The Economist, "The Cockroach Party: Britain’s Lib Dems cling on," 10 May 2018 Every year at this time gardeners are faced with the dilemma of deciding between the last hurrah of the blooms of the winter snapdragons and the new blooms of the summer zinnia in the cut-flower garden. Calvin Finch, San Antonio Express-News, "What’s blooming in S.A. gardens now in April," 20 Apr. 2018 School districts in New Jersey have also been faced with the same dilemma. Nicole Rojas, Newsweek, "Too Many Snow Days? Districts Consider Extending School Year Due to Winter Weather," 21 Mar. 2018 Twitter is dealing with the same dilemma, and now both companies are under pressure from users and lawmakers to clean up their services, especially as the 2018 midterm elections loom closer. Kurt Wagner, Recode, "Facebook finally suspended the anti-Muslim political group that President Trump retweeted last year," 14 Mar. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about dilemma

Statistics for dilemma

Last Updated

10 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for dilemma

The first known use of dilemma was in 1523

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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.

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on dilemma

What made you want to look up dilemma? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

important, real, or meaningful

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Homophone Quiz

  • three-bears-two-of-them-look-like-theyre-whispering-to-a-third-bear-who-looks-chuffed-to-be-the-center-of-attention
  • In order to judge how people felt, the senator's office hired a firm to take a ______.
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!