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 Payton’s dilemma poses a different predicament for Alice. EW.com, "The Politician season 2 binge recap," 19 June 2020 On that end, Trump's decision to move his nomination speech to Jacksonville created a dilemma for Republicans. Joey Garrison, USA TODAY, "GOP, Democratic leaders rush to overhaul convention plans in era of COVID-19," 14 June 2020 Mask wearers will face a dilemma of whether – or when – to reveal the bottom half of their faces when meeting in person. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, "Post-COVID-19 dating will reveal much," 11 June 2020 But the same dilemma can lead to different approaches. Janelle Bitker, SFChronicle.com, "June gloom, dirty streets limit San Francisco restaurants’ outdoor dining options," 11 June 2020 Some restaurant owners have taken steps to lessen the dilemma for staff members by paying workers during the closures and even paying a higher wage to workers who come back. David Lindquist, The Indianapolis Star, "For health and financial reasons, tipped employees see dilemma in returning to work," 9 June 2020 But with no reliable treatment or vaccine yet for the coronavirus, the arrival of summer has created a dilemma for the $18 billion summer camp industry, which serves 20 million children. NBC News, "As cities reopen, experts worry about spike in coronavirus cases," 5 June 2020 But there was still the dilemma of how to actually deliver the PAC-MAN technique into lung cells. TheWeek, "Gene-editing technique used to fight influenza could 'neutralize' coronavirus," 4 June 2020 The startup dilemma Indian startup space could also suffer without the cushion of Chinese money. Prathamesh Mulye, Quartz India, "India’s new aversion to Chinese investment will hurt its own businesses," 4 June 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

24 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

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