co·​nun·​drum kə-ˈnən-drəm How to pronounce conundrum (audio)
: an intricate and difficult problem
He is faced with the conundrum of trying to find a job without having experience.
: a question or problem having only a conjectural answer
… the political conundrums involved, particularly the problem of how the richer areas … can be made to subsidize the poorer.Douglass Cater
: a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun (as in "Why didn't the lost hikers starve in the desert? Because of the sand which is there.")

Did you know?

We can only conjecture the exact origin of conundrum. What is known is that the word has been in use since the 1600s, and that it had various spellings, such as conimbrum, quonundrum, conuncrum, and quadundrum, before the current spelling was finally established in the following century. One theory of origin suggests that the word was coined as a parody of Latin by students at Oxford University, where it appears to have enjoyed particular popularity in its "word play" or "pun" sense. While the prevalent sense in this century is that of the seemingly unanswerable question or problem, frequently applied to heady dilemmas involving ethics, sociology, or economics, the word is sometimes so loosely applied to anything enigmatic as to be synonymous with puzzle or mystery.

Example Sentences

… giving parents a wealth of educational options sometimes presents a familiar inner-city conundrum: What if all your choices are bad ones? Katherine Boo, New Yorker, 9 Apr. 2001 Mention of poor eyes and good eyes brings me to the creationist's favorite conundrum. What is the use of half an eye? Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, 1995 The explanation of this conundrum is to be heard, at this very moment, on certain surreptitious radio waves, on which the voice of the American convert Bilal is … transmuted into the thunderous speech of the Imam himself. Salman Rushdie, Harper's, December 1988 the conundrum of how an ancient people were able to build such massive structures without the benefit of today's knowledge and technology
Recent Examples on the Web The formula that beats this conundrum came to me on a golf course. Gaurav Kumar, Forbes, 10 Jan. 2023 Albrecht is one in a chorus – judges, public defenders and prosecutors alike – who are sounding alarms over this constitutional conundrum: How long is too long to keep defendants locked up without lawyers? oregonlive, 6 Jan. 2023 The update comes after members of Parliament recently pointed out that this conundrum could create a conflict of interest if deputies were needed to act on behalf of the King. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 23 Nov. 2022 But, to the conundrum raised in the question above, an addition at the buyout deadline could also provide an answer. Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel, 15 Aug. 2022 This week, millions of Chinese face a similar conundrum. Time, 17 Jan. 2023 In the Blumhouse film, which slayed its way to a $30 million opening weekend, Williams’ well-meaning but misguided roboticist Gemma faces a conundrum when niece Cady (Violet McGraw) is placed in her custody after a family tragedy. Katcy Stephan, Variety, 13 Jan. 2023 Her main characters aren’t the embodiment of social problems or political failures, but both women undergo an emotional ordeal that is also a crisis of meaning, an existential conundrum that defies description, or even naming. A.o. Scott, New York Times, 12 Jan. 2023 In responding to the turmoil in Brazil, Biden also confronts another conundrum created by da Silva's predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who is currently staying in the U.S. Shannon K. Crawford, ABC News, 10 Jan. 2023 See More

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

Word History


origin unknown

First Known Use

1645, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of conundrum was in 1645


Dictionary Entries Near conundrum

Cite this Entry

“Conundrum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


co·​nun·​drum kə-ˈnən-drəm How to pronounce conundrum (audio)

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