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
Recent Examples on the Web
But for audiences in many foreign territories, the Old West can be a tough sell. Scott Roxborough, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 May 2024 The Chaparrals finished fourth in a tough District 11-4A group but will be a capable opponent. Charles Baggarly, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 13 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for tough 

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 24 May. 2024.

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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