Definition of dilemma
1 : an argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives against an opponent
2a : a usually undesirable or unpleasant choice faces this dilemma: raise interest rates and slow the economy or lower them and risk serious inflationb : 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
3a : a problem involving a difficult choice the dilemma of “liberty versus order” — J. M. Burnsb : a difficult or persistent problem unemployment … the great central dilemma of our advancing technology — August Heckscher
dilemmaticplay \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.
Recent Examples of dilemma from the Web
The pending naming of a starting quarterback is not the biggest dilemma facing Auburn entering fall camp, according to Gus Malzahn.
North Korea’s latest move presents a complex dilemma with no obvious outcome.
But for Mr. Trump and his national security team, Tuesday’s technical milestone simply underscores tomorrow’s strategic dilemma.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Oscar Brohm faced a dilemma.
Almost every dilemma like this highlights how abnormal Golden State is — how much draft skill, good fortune, and once-in-league-history timing luck the Warriors needed to collect four of the league’s 15 best players.
Unlike most of O'Neill's work, this play has dilemmas that feel resonant and universal in that quotidian, raising-teenagers kind of way.
For many doctors, Marik’s protocol represents a dilemma.
And that will be a continuing dilemma for Republican members of Congress, who will be caught between the unhappiness with Trump of the electorate at large and the enthusiasm of Republican voters.
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.
DILEMMA Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of dilemma for English Language Learners
: a situation in which you have to make a difficult choice
DILEMMA Defined for Kids
Definition of dilemma for Students
: 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.
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up dilemma? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).