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 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.
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Recent Examples on the Web Calls for police reform have created a growing dilemma in progressive political circles when efforts to overhaul policing run headlong into support for unions and workers’ rights. Joshua Fechter, San Antonio Express-News, "Ballot initiative to gut San Antonio police union draws opposition from AFL-CIO," 7 Feb. 2021 There is a practical, bipartisan solution to this dilemma: shrinking the tax gap. Fortune, "$574 billion in taxes weren’t paid in 2019. Here’s how to shrink the gap," 30 Jan. 2021 The Trump administration left President Biden a dilemma in the California desert: a plan to remove protections from millions of acres of public lands and open vast areas to solar and wind farms. Sammy Roth Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Two Biden priorities, climate and conservation, collide in the California desert," 21 Jan. 2021 This dilemma stems from an increasingly likely scenario. Jacob M. Appel, Star Tribune, "What do we ethically owe those who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine?," 19 Jan. 2021 There’s good and bad to Washington playmaking ability, and Holtmann’s dilemma often mirrors what football head coach Ryan Day has dealt with in Justin Fields for the past two seasons. Stephen Means, cleveland, "Four things to know about the Ohio State basketball team now that football season is over," 14 Jan. 2021 In France, a pandemic dilemma over holiday rights for elders PARIS — Until Jan. 3, France is springing nursing home residents for the holidays. NBC news, "In France, a pandemic dilemma over holiday rights for elders," 23 Dec. 2020 One dilemma for any California governor is the state’s geographic diversity. George Skelton, Los Angeles Times, "Column: Come on, government. It shouldn’t be this hard getting COVID-19 vaccine into people’s arms," 25 Jan. 2021 On Wednesday, the nearly 11,000 restaurants participating in New York City's outdoor dining program faced a new dilemma for this year: About a foot of snow forecast. Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY, "'What's a heater gonna do when it's 30 degrees': Restaurants face bleak winter in COVID-19," 16 Dec. 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

25 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Dilemma.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dilemma. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for dilemma



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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