Definition of dilemma in English:

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Pronunciation: /diˈlemə/
Pronunciation: /dīˈlemə/


1A situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones: the people often face the dilemma of feeding themselves or their cattle
More example sentences
  • He both convenes community and shatters its calcifications, creating the space for oracular truths to emerge while posing equally provocative dilemmas.
  • In reality, the objective of the article was to illustrate the dilemmas and choices which have to be made by Highways Authorities.
  • The dilemma of a choice between chaos and injustice is perhaps very real.
1.1A difficult situation or problem: the insoluble dilemma of adolescence
More example sentences
  • Whatever your own problems, difficulties or dilemmas, when a friend comes to you in tears or with the look on her face, it's your job to drop everything and listen.
  • Democracy in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious country like India poses difficult problems and dilemmas not easy to resolve.
  • Guidelines that disseminate new information and provide advice are welcome, but they should not be couched so rigidly as to present clinicians who practise in the current defensive culture with insoluble dilemmas.
1.2 Logic An argument forcing an opponent to choose either of two unfavorable alternatives.
Example sentences
  • He reckons that Hegel becomes ensnared in dilemmas and contradictions.
  • ‘Jointness’ allows us to bring together capabilities and effects that create overwhelming dilemmas for our opponents.
  • That, in our submission, gives rise to something of a logical dilemma.


At its core, a dilemma is a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives ( this is my dilemma: do I stay here for the job security, or do I risk it all for the chance of a better career?). More informally, dilemma can mean ‘a difficult situation or problem’ (as in the insoluble dilemma of adolescence). Some traditionalists object to this weakened use, but it is recorded as early as the first part of the 17th century, and is now widespread and generally acceptable.Note that dilemma is spelled with a double m in the middle, not as -mn-.


Early 16th century (denoting a form of argument involving a choice between equally unfavorable alternatives): via Latin from Greek dilēmma, from di- 'twice' + lēmma 'premise'.

  • Recorded from the early 16th century, dilemma was originally a technical term of rhetoric and logic. It referred particularly to a form of argument involving a choice between equally unfavourable alternatives. The alternatives of a dilemma were traditionally called ‘horns’, translating the term used in Latin, the international language of European scholars in the 16th century. The expression on the horns of a dilemma captures this notion of double difficulty. The word came into English from Greek dilēmma, from di- ‘twice’ and lēmma ‘premise, assertion’.

Words that rhyme with dilemma

contemner, Emma, emmer, Jemma, lemma, maremma, stemma, tremor

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: di·lem·ma

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