dilemma

noun
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

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Other Words from dilemma

dilemmatic \ ˌdi-​lə-​ˈma-​tik How to pronounce dilemmatic (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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Zidane has now returned and faces a selection dilemma that ideally should be sorted this summer. SI.com, "4 Positions Real Madrid Must Strengthen This Summer to Reclaim La Liga & Champions League Glory," 30 June 2019 The Supreme Court faced a similar dilemma with regard to Trump administration policy last year. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "The Supreme Court Seems Oddly Ambivalent About Being Lied To," 27 June 2019 While vague information is better than no information, many women (and men) still face a dilemma: take a chance or cancel their travel plans altogether. Brooke Porter Katz, Condé Nast Traveler, "Zika Continues to Impact the Way Women Travel," 5 June 2019 If both Chara and Grzelcyk are out, Cassidy will face a dilemma. Helene Elliott, latimes.com, "Bruins’ Stanley Cup push complicated by Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk injuries," 5 June 2019 Mission scientists faced a dilemma: visit Titan or Pluto. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "Inside the all-American voyage to the last world in the Solar System," 3 July 2018 Congressman’s political survival seems unlikely after wife implicates him in criminal conspiracy Republican leaders are faced with a familiar dilemma: What to do about Rep. Duncan Hunter? San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Hunter’s legal predicament goes from bad to much worse. What are the GOP’s options?," 16 June 2019 Giant pandas Pandas sometimes have twins, presenting a giant panda mom with a dilemma—choosing which is most likely to survive, and letting the other die. Brian Handwerk, National Geographic, "'Bad moms' of the animal kingdom are only trying to survive," 10 May 2019 Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, which Wednesday reported a 2% decline in underlying earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for 2018, is wrestling with this dilemma. Nathaniel Taplin, WSJ, "Rio Tinto’s Green Growth Dilemma," 27 Feb. 2019

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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Statistics for dilemma

Last Updated

11 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

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 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.

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