\ 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

chewy, leathery

Synonyms: Noun

bully, gangbanger, gangsta, gangster, goon, gorilla, hood, hoodlum, hooligan, mobster, mug, plug-ugly, punk, roughneck, rowdy, ruffian, thug, toughie (also toughy), yob [British], yobbo [British]

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


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.


He talks tough but he's not really dangerous.


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


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

There are issues such as stigma and medical problems that can make that tough. Yvonne Wenger, Washington Post, "Baltimore’s nightclub for disabled adults fosters love, friendship and inclusion," 4 June 2019 Once Watson demands a second contract, and once J.J. Watt and Clowney cannot both be retained, rebuilding will get a lot tougher. Conor Orr,, "AFC South Offseason Reports: The Colts Are Positioned for Power," 4 June 2019 Sometimes that tough to do, especially in this day and age. Pat Disabato, Daily Southtown, "V for Vera = victory: Jake Vera drives in winning run in seventh as St. Laurence stops De La Salle in supersectional," 4 June 2019 All of the health aide roles are challenging -- ANTHC now offers a Healthy Healers course to help improve providers’ own wellness and resilience -- but the behavioral health job can be particularly tough. Anchorage Daily News, "The living legacy of Alaska’s community health aides," 4 June 2019 The Democratic National Committee imposed tougher rules for presidential candidates to qualify for primary debates scheduled for September and October, a move that could help narrow the vast field of candidates. Ken Thomas, WSJ, "Democratic Party Raises Bar for Second Round of Debates in Fall," 29 May 2019 And that mint green exterior isn't too tough on the eyes, either. Sophie Saint Thomas, Allure, "Dermstore's Huge Memorial Day Sale Has Deals on All These Amazing Beauty Brands," 20 May 2019 Any higher will leave you with an egg that's accidentally scrambled, or overly tough, or both. Audrey Bruno, SELF, "How to Poach an Egg Like a Pro," 20 Feb. 2019 The Hell That Is EDL Escaping Earth's gravitational grasp is tough enough, but the engineers don’t even test the spacecraft for this part of the mission. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "NASA's Mars 2020 Mission Passes Critical Heat Shield Test," 2 May 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

Yes, China is acting tough in one sense, quickly imposing tariffs in retaliation for those enacted by the Trump administration. Donald L. Luskin, WSJ, "China Is Losing the Trade War With Trump," 27 July 2018 The Classic Dish Coq Au Vin, in which a whole tough older bird —usually a rooster — is cooked in wine, must be the ancestor to this lesser-known dish, in which just the meaty legs of a sturdy hen are cooked in vinegar. Gabrielle Hamilton, House Beautiful, "Gabrielle Hamilton's Braised Chicken Legs with Shallots and Vinegar," 22 Feb. 2013 That might explain why some people who love Trump’s tough-talking style are angry over the comments Waters made at a campaign rally last week. Dahleen Glanton,, "Maxine Waters shows that gutsiness is in the eye of the beholder," 28 June 2018 Might find things tough now the element of surprise is gone. Martin Rogers, USA TODAY, "World Cup: Ranking all 32 teams, from hopeless to hopefuls," 22 May 2018 Here is a look at some of those potential regional final matchups: Mukwonago at Middleton: Mukwonago finished sixth in the rugged Classic 8 but played a number of top teams tough. Mark Stewart, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Milwaukee-area girls soccer rankings, weekly honors," 28 May 2018 If the polls are right, Mr Duque’s tough-talking modernity will defeat Mr Petro’s radicalism in a run-off on June 17th. The Economist, "Colombians hope for change in the first post-war presidential election," 26 May 2018 And Mr Hannity, another tough-talking New Yorker, who feeds Mr Trump’s love of conspiracy theories and hatred of snooty elites, is his closest confidant on Fox. The Economist, "Sean Hannity shares a lot with Donald Trump, including an attorney," 19 Apr. 2018 Picking a jury has proven particularly tough after the #MeToo movement started toppling famous men in rapid succession months after Cosby's first trial ended in a deadlock. CBS News, "Bill Cosby trial judge delivers defense 2 big victories," 3 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

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 Henri Jokihajru can't handle a tough back pass at the Brandon blue line, leading to a 2 on 1 and a Ty Lewis goal. 3-1 Brendan De Jong with the pass of his life at center ice, sending Joachim Blichfeld in for a breakaway goal. Dylan Bumbarger,, "Winterhawks 4, Wheat Kings 3," 22 Jan. 2018 Martinez-Valdez, prosecutors say, was a street tough who earned a lucrative living by stepping into the sophisticated economic crime. David Ovalle, miamiherald, "Illegal 'moving fire bombs' drive Miami black market for gas | Miami Herald," 12 Jan. 2018 Buddhist toughs threatened taxi drivers and merchants from Kargil, telling them they weren’t allowed to work in Leh. Suhasini Raj And Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, "On the Run for Love: Couple Bridges a Buddhist-Muslim Divide," 12 Oct. 2017 These teams — there are precisely two in the series, vaguely rivalrous, unequally enlightened — are the tough who get going when the going gets too tough for the ordinary weapons and tactics of ordinary police officers. Robert Lloyd,, "CBS's flashy, action-packed 'S.W.A.T.' reboot will no doubt serve as comfort food to some viewers," 2 Nov. 2017 Cody Krause did the tough running up the middle by gaining 78 yards on 22 carries, including a 6-yard touchdown. Andrew Gruman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Five Takeaways: Muskego 28, Catholic Memorial 6," 8 Sep. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

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 state began toughing its administrative rules for cash assistance after then-Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took office in 2011. John Hanna, The Seattle Times, "New Kansas governor wants to roll back cash assistance rules," 4 Dec. 2018 Unfortunately, the people who tough it out and open up a gallery are the true believers. Mark Kurlyandchik, Detroit Free Press, "Anthony Bourdain dishes on Trump, Detroit, terrible food in 2016," 8 June 2018 Residents toughing it out in the valleys around Los Angeles and in the inland region to the east faced the possibility of unhealthy air quality. CBS News, "Southern California heat wave breaks records," 6 July 2018 Even starting pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who was tagged with five runs on six hits, including two home runs in the first three innings, toughed it out to go six and keep the Rangers within 5-2. Stefan Stevenson, star-telegram, "Astros hold on against Rangers but Shin-Soo Choo stretches on-base streak to 43 games," 3 July 2018 Read: Incarcerated opioid addicts often have to tough out withdrawal. Joel Shannon, USA TODAY, "Near a Nebraska town, cops seize enough opioids to kill over 26 million," 26 May 2018 Most people will try to tough it out with more over-the-counter medications, eye drops and nasal sprays, Portnoy said. Kelsey Ryan, kansascity, "Are your allergies getting worse? Climate change may be to blame," 19 June 2018 Although the day started out gray and rainy, visitors to the recent Open House at the Dunes Learning Center toughed out the morning hours to enjoy a great sunny afternoon. Sue Ellen Ross, Post-Tribune, "Discovering the wonders of the dunes," 11 June 2018

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

Statistics for tough

Last Updated

7 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tough

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tough



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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tough

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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).


incapable of being surmounted or overcome

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Finance Words Quiz

  • a-piggy-bank
  • The etymology of mortgage is related most closely to which two words?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


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!