tough

1 of 4

adjective

tougher; toughest
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
started hanging out with the tough kids
4
a
: 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
see also get tough on
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
9
toughly adverb

tough

2 of 4

adverb

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

tough

3 of 4

noun

: a tough and violent person : rowdy

tough

4 of 4

verb

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
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Throughout the incisive 90-minute set, the comedian shares his experience attending a meeting of white nationalists in New York City, while weaving in brilliant bits about the time his Orthodox Jewish family celebrated Christmas and tough questions about identity, assimilation and empathy. Los Angeles Times Staff, Los Angeles Times, 5 Apr. 2024 Staley, 53, is tough, smart and knows basketball inside and out, as both a world-class, gold-medal point guard and a coach who understands how to manage big stars. Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer, 5 Apr. 2024 While Levin anticipates tougher competition at home, Scania is setting up its own plant in China to benefit from growth in the world’s biggest truck market. Rafaela Lindeberg, Fortune Europe, 4 Apr. 2024 Similarly, marveling at the beauty of an endangered butterfly makes the biodiversity crisis feel personal in a way that’s tough to replicate online. Nathaniel Scharping, Discover Magazine, 4 Apr. 2024 Despite the tough climate for independent films, theaters are being saved by corporations from streamers to car companies. Pat Saperstein, Variety, 4 Apr. 2024 So exciting, but it's been tough to keep a secret for all this time. Rachel Bernhard, Journal Sentinel, 4 Apr. 2024 Forecasting what the season could hold this early is usually seen as a tough task. Alex Harris, Miami Herald, 4 Apr. 2024 The sisters agreed that one scene was particularly tough. Helena Andrews-Dyer, Washington Post, 25 Mar. 2024
Adverb
On Monday night, the Mustangs (7-9) hung tough early and led, 23-21, moments into the second quarter. Brooks Warren, The Courier-Journal, 8 Jan. 2024 The Warriors didn’t hang tough defensively, either, though that has less to do with Curry’s absence. Danny Emerman, The Mercury News, 10 Mar. 2024 Even the terrorist group ISIS saw positive results from hanging tough: Trump abruptly ended the counter-ISIS fight before a decisive victory was achieved, the equivalent of spiking the ball on the five-yard line. Peter D. Feaver, Foreign Affairs, 19 Feb. 2024 Through tonight: Clouds may hang tough into the night. Ian Livingston, Washington Post, 31 Jan. 2024 Smith played tough in the middle and took advantage of the Grizzlies' inattention at the 3-point line despite his 48.6% accuracy this season. Dustin Dopirak, The Indianapolis Star, 28 Jan. 2024 Missouri, ranked No. 12 in the first College Football Playoff selection committee poll released last week, played tough at No. 2 Georgia before losing 30-21. Bob Holt, Arkansas Online, 6 Nov. 2023 Miller urged the crowd that braved mid-morning Burbank sun and an outdoor rally with little shade to hang tough in the face of adversity. Cynthia Littleton, Variety, 22 Aug. 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, BostonGlobe.com, 29 July 2023
Noun
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
Verb
Some old-timers would tough it out in tennis shoes to be extra quiet while walking through the woods. Matthew Every, Field & Stream, 13 Mar. 2024 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. BostonGlobe.com, 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

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

Etymology

Adjective, Adverb, Noun, and Verb

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

First Known Use

Adjective

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

Adverb

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun

1801, in the meaning defined above

Verb

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.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tough. Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

tough

1 of 2 adjective
1
a
: able to take great force : flexible and not brittle
tough fibers
b
: not easily chewed
tough meat
2
: marked by firmness or determination
a tough policy
3
: able to stand hard work and hardship
tough soldiers
4
: hard to influence : stubborn
a tough bargainer
5
: very difficult
a tough problem
6
: having much crime or bad behavior
a tough neighborhood
toughly adverb
toughness noun

tough

2 of 2 noun
: a tough person : rowdy

More from Merriam-Webster on tough

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