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From Middle English difficultee, from Old French difficulté, from Latin difficultas, from difficul, older form of difficilis (hard to do, difficult), from dis- + facilis (easy); see difficile and difficult.


  • IPA(key): /ˈdɪfɪkəlti/
  • (file)


difficulty (countable and uncountable, plural difficulties)

  1. The state of being difficult, or hard to do.
  2. An obstacle that hinders achievement of a goal.
    We faced a difficulty in trying to book a flight so late.
    • 2019 June 27, Lauren Gambino, “Democratic 2020 candidates clash on healthcare, immigration and economy in first debate”, in The Guardian[1]:
      The two-hour debate was briefly stalled by a technical difficulty with the moderators’ microphones.
  3. Physical danger from the environment, especially with risk of drowning
    • 2016 February 24, Catherine Shanahan, "Boy, 13, drowns after getting into difficulty in river" Irish Examiner
      The three teenagers, a girl and two boys, were playing by the river when it is believed they got into difficulty.
    • 2016 March 14, "Kayaker rescued after getting into difficulty" Bournemouth Echo
      Members of the public had called 999 as they were concerned the kayaker was in difficulty around the headland race due to very strong spring tides and choppy seas with the kayaker making no headway.
    • 2016 March 19, Neil Shaw "Teens rescued from Dartmoor after getting into difficulty" Plymouth Herald
      A group of young people had to be rescued from Dartmoor on Friday night after getting into difficulty during a Duke of Edinburgh exercise. [] A 16-year-old girl required medical attention and a medic was winched down to the site by helicopter.
  4. An objection.
  5. That which cannot be easily understood or believed.
  6. An awkward situation or quarrel.

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