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 Less admirable societies reach for subterfuge and scapegoating to disguise the tragic nature of their dilemmas. Philip Bobbitt, Time, "We Have to Decide Who Suffers Most in a Pandemic. That's Complicated," 5 May 2020 At a luncheon with Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Harris), Avis tells the former first lady about her casting dilemma. Jean Bentley, refinery29.com, "Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood Limited Series Binge Club: Episodes 1-7," 4 May 2020 Kate Middleton has never tried to hide her personal struggles with parenting and now, one of her earliest parenting dilemmas has come to light. Kayleigh Roberts, Marie Claire, "Kate Middleton Originally Had Her "Heart Set" on a Different Name for Prince George," 3 May 2020 Our dilemma is figuring out how to protect her from exposure while still caring for her. Jodi Kantor, New York Times, "Coronavirus Makes Daily Life Confounding. Here Are Some Answers.," 23 Mar. 2020 The ingenious use of split-screen techniques juxtaposes their private dilemmas into visualization of existential crisis. Armond White, National Review, "Straight Up Answers the Rom-Com Need," 28 Feb. 2020 Some of the following economic indicators best capture her dilemma. GDP growth, or the dearth of it Official estimates peg India’s GDP growth in financial year 2020 at 5%, the lowest in 11 years. Pramod Mathew, Quartz India, "These ten charts tell you everything about the Indian economy ahead of Budget 2020," 30 Jan. 2020 Some restaurants suddenly find themselves with a dilemma. Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press, "Do-Good Auto Coalition helps auto industry step up in coronavirus crisis," 20 Apr. 2020 As the nation faces shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) and approaches 31,000, hospitals are faced with a dilemma: Give health-care workers unlimited access to gear and risk running out when a surge hits. Jenna Portnoy, Washington Post, "Inova bans hospital workers from wearing PPE they bring from home," 16 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for dilemma

Time Traveler

The first known use of dilemma was in 1523

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Statistics for dilemma

Last Updated

29 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Dilemma.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dilemma. Accessed 3 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for dilemma


How to pronounce dilemma (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of dilemma

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


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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