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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. Equivalent to dis- +‎ facile +‎ -ty. Also analysable as difficult +‎ -y, though the adjective is historically a backformation from the noun.


  • IPA(key): /ˈdɪfɪkəlti/
  • Audio (US):(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. (sometimes in the plural) Physical danger from the environment, especially with risk of drowning
  4. An objection.
  5. That which cannot be easily understood or believed.
  6. An awkward situation or quarrel.

Derived terms




Further reading