1 of 4


tougher; toughest
: difficult to accomplish, resolve, endure, or deal with
a tough question
tough luck
: capable of enduring strain, hardship, or severe labor
tough soldiers
: unruly, rowdyish
started hanging out with the tough kids
: strong or firm in texture but flexible and not brittle
: not easily chewed
tough meat
: characterized by severity or uncompromising determination
tough laws
tough discipline
see also get tough on
: very hard to influence : stubborn
a tough negotiator
: stubbornly fought
a tough contest
: marked by absence of softness or sentimentality
a tough critic
toughly adverb


2 of 4


: in a tough manner (see tough entry 1)
talking tough


3 of 4


: a tough and violent person : rowdy


4 of 4


toughed; toughing; toughs

transitive verb

: to bear unflinchingly : endure
usually used with out especially in the phrase tough it out
Choose the Right Synonym for tough

strong, stout, sturdy, stalwart, tough, tenacious mean showing power to resist or to endure.

strong may imply power derived from muscular vigor, large size, structural soundness, intellectual or spiritual resources.

strong arms
the defense has a strong case

stout suggests an ability to endure stress, pain, or hard use without giving way.

stout hiking boots

sturdy implies strength derived from vigorous growth, determination of spirit, solidity of construction.

a sturdy table
people of sturdy independence

stalwart suggests an unshakable dependability.

stalwart environmentalists

tough implies great firmness and resiliency.

a tough political opponent

tenacious suggests strength in seizing, retaining, clinging to, or holding together.

tenacious farmers clinging to an age-old way of life

Examples of tough in a Sentence

Adjective I have a tough constitution, and my profession taught me how to compete against long odds and big obstacles. Lance Armstrong, It's Not About The Bike, (2000) 2001
… Pelletreau had firsthand experience in dealing with Israelis as well as with Arabs and had a reputation for being bold, analytical, and tough as nails. Robert D. Kaplan, The Arabists, 1993
… this wiry, tough, frenetic Algerian with the beneficent smile, who could vault over the bar and stiff-arm a drunk out into the night in less time than it takes to say Edgar Poe, and return, bland as butter, to take up where he left off … William Styron, "The Paris Review," August 1953, in William Styron, This Quiet Dust And Other Writings(1953) 1982
He had on the other hand to preserve his own reputation as a tough D.A. who dealt handily with the criminal classes. E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime, (1974) 1975
She had a tough time in college. Are you tough enough for the job? He's been hanging around with a bunch of tough guys. The rug is made of tough material. Adverb He talks tough but he's not really dangerous. Noun One night, after antagonizing a gang of older toughs, he had his face smashed in with a hockey stick. John Harris, Rolling Stone, 14 Nov. 2002
They weren't strong enough to fight Sankoh and his hopped-up young toughs, who number in the thousands. Tom Masland et al., Newsweek, 15 May 2000
The subways provided fine service, except that lately there had been a problem. Packs of young toughs had taken to roaming the cars. Tom Wolf, Harper's, November 1989
didn't want her son hanging out with the neighborhood toughs Verb Summer in New York is coasting the dairy aisle at Safeway.  … It's finding the spot in a subway car where the vent blows strongest and staying there past your stop, toughing it out when the "excuse me, ladies and gentlemen" hard-luck stories blow through. Guy Trebay, Village Voice, 30 July 1991
… they were toughing it out with the help of the greatest ally a macho young cop ever had, booze. Joseph Wambaugh, Lines and Shadows, 1984
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Recent Examples on the Web
Whether the ban will fare any better before higher courts remains to be seen, but experts say the law and others like it across the country face a tough road. Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times, 23 Sep. 2023 There are alternatives, but making the jump is a tough road for anyone. WIRED, 22 Sep. 2023 The third Republican presidential debate will be held on Nov. 8 in Miami, with candidates facing the toughest requirements yet to qualify to take the stage. CBS News, 22 Sep. 2023 Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, but hostility to it is widespread, and police crackdowns on Pride parades have become tougher over the years. Reuters, NBC News, 22 Sep. 2023 Zelensky made his second visit to Washington in nine months, but the pomp and circumstance couldn’t mask the new reality that Kyiv’s war with Russia is proving a tougher sell to the Ukrainian president’s Western backers. WSJ, 22 Sep. 2023 But getting audiences to tune in outside of Sunday is going to be a very tough challenge for the network. Vulture, 21 Sep. 2023 The Rubbermaid's self-wringing system and scouring head make this mop a worthwhile purchase for households with tough, stuck-on messes. Cai Cramer, Peoplemag, 21 Sep. 2023 The list is underrated rappers could fill the Grand Canyon, so that’s a tough question to answer. Spin Staff, Spin, 21 Sep. 2023
To a thumping bass beat, the young street tough portrayed by an extraordinary Sati Veyrunes arises in triumph, working the crowd with macho posturing and playfully confrontational look-at-me swagger. Karen Campbell,, 29 July 2023 Parking tip: Competition gets tough closer to the trail head near Happy Isles, so a park shuttle bus is an alternate option. Sunset Magazine, 30 June 2023 Meanwhile, Bishop Fenwick’s guards will have to hang tough against a daunting Spartan backcourt. Trevor Hass,, 16 Mar. 2023 In its message to members, the WGA urged writers to hang tough together despite the hardships that may come with a strike. Cynthia Littleton, Variety, 1 May 2023 Despite being shorthanded on the road against a foe determined to redeem itself, the Spurs hung tough before losing 134-122, facts that left Gregg Popovich proud of his crew. Tom Orsborn, San Antonio Express-News, 26 Oct. 2022 How the Spartans kept discussing the focus on details that betrayed them a month ago, about not giving up a 3-pointer, about playing tough inside, about boxing out on free throws. Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press, 21 Mar. 2023 Despite a distinct aggressiveness from the tip from James, who finished with 21 points, Etiwanda fought on the glass and played tough on the interior to never let the Trailblazers get too much momentum in transition. Eric Sondheimer, Los Angeles Times, 2 Mar. 2023 While the aftermarket is full of a variety of tough-looking solutions that promise all sorts of novel uses, the safest, easiest way to lift a vehicle’s wheels off the ground will always be with a simple bottle jack like this one from Pro-Lift for $43. Wes Siler, Outside Online, 30 July 2022
By the numbers Gary Klein’s prediction The NFC West rival Rams and the Seahawks always play each other tough. Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times, 9 Sep. 2023 Shots of Phoenix running from street toughs in his clown outfit are intercut with his social worker breaking up with him. Dan Brooks, New York Times, 2 Oct. 2019 At one point, toughs from a drug-trafficking gang called Loyal To Familia arrived on motorbikes looking for members of Brothas, a rival group. The Economist, 28 Nov. 2019 The two drugged toughs get off with a warning and some pummeling. Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter, 30 Aug. 2019
Yet the father and son, still about five miles from the end of their 52-mile hike in the Manistee National Forest in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula, were determined to tough it out. Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press, 15 June 2023 Gadson maintains that guild members are ready to tough out a long work stoppage in their pursuit of a fair deal. William Earl, Variety, 2 May 2023 Still, the benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh trying to tough out an infection. Nikki McCann Ramirez, Rolling Stone, 8 Aug. 2022 Baker Mayfield wants to tough it out., 20 Oct. 2021 Sure, the Justice Department and the FBI may tough it out that way. Charles Tiefer, Forbes, 23 Feb. 2023 Why shouldn't amoebae just stay away from the group and try to tough it out on their own? Carl Zimmer, Discover Magazine, 19 July 2010 Given those obstacles, some try to tough out illness at home, with potentially deadly results. Ashley Wu, New York Times, 8 Sep. 2022 As spores, fungi can tough out adverse conditions and drift thousands of miles in the wind to find more livable settings. Sarah Zhang, Discover Magazine, 16 May 2012 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tough.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Adjective, Adverb, Noun, and Verb

Middle English, from Old English tōh; akin to Old High German zāhi tough

First Known Use


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4a


14th century, in the meaning defined above


1801, in the meaning defined above


1830, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tough was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near tough

Cite this Entry

“Tough.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
: able to take great force : flexible and not brittle
tough fibers
: not easily chewed
tough meat
: marked by firmness or determination
a tough policy
: able to stand hard work and hardship
tough soldiers
: hard to influence : stubborn
a tough bargainer
: very difficult
a tough problem
: having much crime or bad behavior
a tough neighborhood
toughly adverb
toughness noun


2 of 2 noun
: a tough person : rowdy

More from Merriam-Webster on tough

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