\ ˈtəf How to pronounce tough (audio) \

Definition of tough

 (Entry 1 of 4)

1 : difficult to accomplish, resolve, endure, or deal with a tough question tough luck
2 : capable of enduring strain, hardship, or severe labor tough soldiers
3 : unruly, rowdyish a tough gang
4a : strong or firm in texture but flexible and not brittle
b : not easily chewed tough meat
5 : characterized by severity or uncompromising determination tough laws tough discipline
6 : very hard to influence : stubborn a tough negotiator
7 : stubbornly fought a tough contest
8 : marked by absence of softness or sentimentality a tough critic



Definition of tough (Entry 2 of 4)

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



Definition of tough (Entry 3 of 4)

: a tough and violent person : rowdy


toughed; toughing; toughs

Definition of tough (Entry 4 of 4)

transitive verb

: to bear unflinchingly : endure usually used with out especially in the phrase tough it out

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from tough


toughly adverb
toughness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for tough

Synonyms: Adjective

Synonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Adjective

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective And Sutton's strength and do-it-all game is tough for any team to match up against. Lucas Aulbach, The Courier-Journal, "Your scouting report on Louisville basketball vs. Michigan — and how to watch," 3 Dec. 2019 There have been a few instances when the decision has been tough, and Superintendent Jack Smith has headed out in his SUV to test the conditions himself. Washington Post, "D.C. region schools are ready to call a snow day — they just hope they don’t need to," 2 Dec. 2019 Alas, tough was not enough to counter Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (122 scrimmage yards), whose two second-quarter touchdowns flipped the script. Sean Keeler, The Denver Post, "“It’s a radically different feel”: Why Mel Tucker’s 1st season has CU Buffs fans sad that it’s over," 30 Nov. 2019 The day had already been tough for many who came to the funeral home. Eileen Kelley,, "Grieving friends struggle to understand slaying of woman, 21, in Coral Springs drive," 27 Nov. 2019 However, when an Indian wants to meet another Indian outside the country, the search can be tough. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India, "Dil Mil, a dating app for the Indian diaspora, is redefining “arranged” marriages," 27 Nov. 2019 The signature of the time crystal is subtle and would be tough to measure: Certain correlations in the number of spins pointing up or down will oscillate in time, even though the system remains unperturbed in its least energetic state. Adrian Cho, Science | AAAS, "Back to the future: The original time crystal makes a comeback," 27 Nov. 2019 Even people who have been anti-diet for years, who have made careers out of it, have a tough time in these situations. Christine Byrne, Self, "How to Live Your Anti-Diet Values in a Weight-Obsessed World (Without Being a Jerk)," 27 Nov. 2019 The combination of a storied past and a tough entrance exam makes change hard to implement. Simon Akam, Outside Online, "You Won’t Pass Chamonix’s Mountain Guiding Test," 27 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb Republicans liked Graddick, a tough-talking conservative, and Graddick aimed to make their support count. Mike Cason |, al, "Alabama Bicentennial: 200 years of political scandals and scrapes," 4 Dec. 2019 Mutzbauer works with a main line on his bosun’s chair and a backup line on his full-body harness, each rope tough enough to take up to 7,000 pounds of force. René A. Guzman,, "San Antonio window washer now high on god, not heroin," 3 Dec. 2019 But drama ensues when Lee is forced to look after tough-talking 10-year-old AJ (Izzy G.), who becomes a stowaway on the performer's RV. Stephen Daw, Billboard, "Meet Ruby Red, RuPaul's Newest Role, In Teaser for Netflix's 'AJ and the Queen'," 19 Nov. 2019 Has a lot of talent, can make all the throws, terrific arm, tough, he’s taken some hits and hangs in there. Mary Kay Cabot, cleveland, "Patriots’ Bill Belichick on Jamie Collins, his team’s 18 INTs, Myles Garrett, Baker Mayfield and more," 22 Oct. 2019 Karoui is a fiery populist who takes his cue from tough-talking strongmen such as the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Trump. Christian Caryl, Twin Cities, "Christian Caryl: The democratic success story that no one is talking about," 16 Oct. 2019 Played with winning, tough-talking charisma by Spencer, Tracy berates Vic for his endless delays and detours, at one point telephoning his employer, who is already barking orders at him over the radio. Justin Chang,, "‘Give Me Liberty’ review: A medical transport van welcomes all," 12 Sep. 2019 Played with winning, tough-talking charisma by Spencer, Tracy berates Vic for his endless delays and detours, at one point telephoning his employer, who is already barking orders at him over the radio. Justin Chang,, "‘Give Me Liberty’ review: A medical transport van welcomes all," 12 Sep. 2019 Most of Hendricks’ accusers are from the lower rungs of the village’s economic ladder, tough-talking teenagers with spiked hair and a love for noisy motorbikes. Washington Post, "Ex-clergyman says US priest in Philippines a known pedophile," 10 Sep. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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, "Denmark wants to break up ethnic enclaves. What is wrong with them?," 28 Nov. 2019 Overcharging the group seemed like a political move to boost his reelection as a tough on crime prosecutor. Dahleen Glanton,, "Column: A year in prison isn’t the second chance Diamond Davis was looking for, but she still has a chance to turn her life around.," 7 Nov. 2019 The fish has a tough, albeit flexible, inner layer bound by collagen to mineralize the outer layer of scales. Fox News, "Amazon fish's 'bulletproof vest' is piranha protection," 18 Oct. 2019 Mushroom Confit Makes about 6 cups Toss together in a colander placed in the sink or over a bowl: 2 pounds mushrooms, larger ones quartered, any tough stems removed 1 tablespoon salt Let sit for 1 hour. CBS News, "Recipe from "Joy of Cooking": Mushroom Confit," 7 Nov. 2019 The two drugged toughs get off with a warning and some pummeling. Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Mayor of Rione Sanita' ('Il sindaco di Rione Sanita'): Film Review | Venice 2019," 30 Aug. 2019 Temple toughs threatened Kinsolving’s bosses and the series was cut. Barton Swaim, WSJ, "Politics: The Cruel Sovereignty of Politics," 28 Dec. 2018 Gebhardt and his brother-in-law were laborers at a pulp mill, but had reputations as toughs with nasty, racist streaks — and rap sheets: Gebhardt had been charged with aggravated assault several times and had spent time in a Georgia penitentiary. Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Washington Post, "A black man was murdered for dating a white woman. His killer was sentenced — 35 years later.," 27 June 2018 An immaculate white convertible — the BMW of its day — and well out of the reach of a pack of teenage Orange toughs. Longreads, "The Cold War and its Fallout," 16 June 2018 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The English won their only previous two World Cup matchups, although both had to be toughed out. San Diego Union-Tribune, "England face do-or-die Pumas to reach RWC quarterfinals," 3 Oct. 2019 Mensah evaded opposing tacklers, broke big plays (including a 45-yard gain) and toughed out short-yardage situations. Alex Putterman,, "Grading UConn’s players, units after 56-35 win over UMass," 27 Oct. 2019 Dead serious, caught a migraine, but just had to tough it out. Edgar Thompson,, "No. 7 Gators prepare for hostile visit to No. 5 LSU’s Death Valley Saturday night," 7 Oct. 2019 Total Expert Score: 80/100 This little compact can tough it out on any outdoor adventure and in any weather conditions. Daisy Hernandez, Popular Mechanics, "How to See the Northern Lights This Weekend," 30 Aug. 2019 Bessemer Academy is no stranger to tough early-season football games. Dennis Victory, al, "Bessemer Academy starts 2019 Alabama HS football season with tough opponent," 15 Aug. 2019 While some in this town have gotten fed up and left — getting their hands on permits to fish in other districts such as Kodiak and Sand Point — the Allens are part of a small group that has chosen to tough it out and stay put. Alex Hager, Anchorage Daily News, "Chignik Bay is ‘hanging by a thread’ after a second year of scant fishing," 3 Aug. 2019 Total Expert Score: 80/100 | Consumer Score: 76% give it 4 stars or higher This little compact can tough it out on any outdoor adventure and in any weather conditions. Paige Szmodis, Popular Mechanics, "The 10 Best Compact Digital Cameras for Capturing Your Adventures," 17 Apr. 2019 The more both sides harden their resolve to tough it out, the greater the pressure on companies to hedge their bets on China and move elsewhere. Gwynn Guilford, Quartz, "The trade war is already pushing businesses out of China—and it could be permanent," 14 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tough.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of tough


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

History and Etymology for tough

Adjective, Adverb, Noun, and Verb

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about tough

Time Traveler for tough

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for tough

Last Updated

6 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Tough.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 16 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tough


How to pronounce tough (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tough

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: very difficult to do or deal with
: physically and emotionally strong : able to do hard work, to deal with harsh conditions, etc.
: physically strong and violent



English Language Learners Definition of tough (Entry 2 of 3)

: in a way that shows that you are strong or tough



English Language Learners Definition of tough (Entry 3 of 3)

informal + old-fashioned : a tough and violent person


\ ˈtəf How to pronounce tough (audio) \
tougher; toughest

Kids Definition of tough

1 : strong or firm but flexible and not brittle tough fibers tough leather
2 : not easily chewed tough meat
3 : physically or emotionally strong enough to put up with strain or hardship
4 : very strict, firm, or determined a tough coach tough rules
5 : very difficult to do or deal with We've had some tough times. The math test was tough.
6 : lawless sense 2 a tough neighborhood

Other Words from tough

toughness noun

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on tough

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tough

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tough

Spanish Central: Translation of tough

Nglish: Translation of tough for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tough for Arabic Speakers

Comments on tough

What made you want to look up tough? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


having a smooth flowing sound

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Great Scrabble Words—A Quiz

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!