Definition of tough in English:

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Pronunciation: /tʌf/


1(Of a substance or object) strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough handling: tough rucksacks for climbers
More example sentences
  • He knows just how to make tight leggings, rough, tough leathers and plush cashmere absolutely dazzling.
  • If you have ever polished some hard, tough material like metal or marble you know how much energy it takes.
  • The ground began shacking with such great force, not even the lifeless roots obscured in the grey soil were tough enough to hold up their dying masters.
durable, strong, resilient, resistant, sturdy, rugged, firm, solid, substantial, sound, stout, indestructible, unbreakable, hard, rigid, stiff, inflexible, toughened;
hard-wearing, long-lasting, heavy-duty, well built, made to last
1.1(Of food, especially meat) difficult to cut or chew: the hastily prepared steak was tough
More example sentences
  • I've been grazing among the blogs and chewing that question like a tough mouthful of cud.
  • Hominids had teeth that resembled those of pigs and bears, which can chew tough, fiber-rich food.
  • Most of them are sipping coffee, or reading newspapers, or chewing morosely on tough bread.
chewy, leathery, gristly, stringy, fibrous, sinewy, cartilaginous
2Able to endure hardship or pain: she was as tough as old boots
More example sentences
  • Happily, Russian skaters tend to be tough as old boots.
  • It then turned out that my grandad is as tough as old boots, and probably just wanted to take attention away from me getting a job.
  • Finally there is the underlying truth that Carol is as tough as old boots, and frankly, as sexy as a Sherman tank.
resilient, strong, hardy, gritty, determined, resolute, dogged, stalwart;
rugged, fit, robust, powerful, red-blooded, doughty;
hardened, cynical, hard-bitten
informal hard, (as) tough as old boots
2.1Having the confidence and determination to cope in difficult situations: he liked editors who were tough enough to make the grade
More example sentences
  • Brees is smart, tough and had the confidence of his teammates after leading them to 20 wins over the last two years.
  • In any case, with Beeching reluctant to play the game and with Marples determined to be tough, it was difficult to predict which lines would be spared in advance.
  • I saw the older men trying to demonstrate they were still tough and able.
2.2Difficult and requiring determination or effort: we have six tough matches in a row
More example sentences
  • I think acting is tough, as it requires great mental discipline.
  • These questions require us to make tough decisions about how we distribute our finite resources.
  • Also: finishing a tough job requires that you draw your hand theatrically across your brow.
arduous, onerous, difficult, demanding, hard, heavy, taxing, burdensome, tiring, exhausting, punishing, wearying, fatiguing, laborious, strenuous, exacting, troublesome, formidable, stressful, Herculean
rare toilsome, exigent
difficult, hard, knotty, thorny, baffling, tricky, ticklish, prickly, perplexing, puzzling, mystifying, troublesome, bothersome, irksome, intractable
2.3Used to express sympathy with someone in a difficult situation: Poor kid. It’s tough on her
More example sentences
  • Sereana Naikelekele says the situation is tough on all five kids.
  • It is tough on Maloney that the arduous assignment of a UEFA Cup tie at home to VfB Stuttgart is being billed as if it were the equivalent of finishing school for the player.
  • I think it's going to be tough on the mother when that trial comes.
3Demonstrating a strict and uncompromising approach: police have been getting tough with drivers tough new laws on tobacco advertising
More example sentences
  • As it developed, the Court took a tough approach to applying the law, and did not permit many restrictive agreements.
  • The Government was positioning itself nicely to run a campaign based on its tough approach to dealing with asylum seekers.
  • But Blunkett's tough approach to social reform could only be argued by a minister free of personal distractions.
strict, stern, severe, hard, harsh, firm, hard-hitting, adamant, inflexible, unyielding, unbending, uncompromising, unsentimental, unsympathetic;
merciless, ruthless, callous, hard-hearted, uncaring, cold, cool, stony, stony-hearted, flinty
informal hard-nosed, hard-boiled
North American informal badass
3.1 [often as exclamation] Used to express a lack of sympathy with someone: I feel the way I feel, and if you don’t like it, tough
More example sentences
  • If what they did is within the parameters of the law, then tough for her she should have known better.
4Strong and prone to violence: tough young teenagers
More example sentences
  • While all agree he is tough and prone to losing his temper, there is almost universal respect for his abilities as a soldier.
  • Galvin's characters jump off the page at you whether he is describing a tough young cop like Fox or ‘Beano’ his snout.
  • Outside the town centre pubs, tough young men and women in vests, jeans and tattoos were giving each other the thumbs up and cackling with glee.
4.1(Of an area) notorious for violence and crime: a tough part of the town
More example sentences
  • Yet, it's a vehicle for tough people venturing into tough areas.
  • Brought up the hard way, the Garda believed that for one to become so prominent in such a tough area, there was no doubting Mr Kelly was a highly intelligent man.
  • So it's a very, very tough area that the marines are facing here.


A rough and violent man: a gang of toughs
More example sentences
  • One disaster follows another on this, the worst day of Bruce Nolan's life, as he's fired from the station, beaten up by a gang of toughs, who then vandalise his car.
  • These Christian bikers come from all walks of life, though many of them are ex-motorcycle gang toughs who've been born again.
  • A misfit gang of working-class street toughs from Queens, the Ramones were ruled with an iron fist by guitarist Johnny.
ruffian, rowdy, thug, hoodlum, hooligan, brute, bully, bully boy, rough, gangster, desperado
informal hard man, roughneck, yob, yobbo, heavy, bruiser, tough guy, toughie, gorilla, yahoo
North American informal hood
Australian/New Zealand informal hoon


(tough it out) informal
Endure a period of hardship or difficulty.



a tough nut to crack

see nut.

tough shit (or titty)

vulgar slang Used to express a lack of sympathy with someone.



Example sentences
  • This toughish walk takes 4-5 hours, but leads through spectacular scenery.
  • Ours was toughish and not much on taste either.
  • The buffet runs a fish-centric gamut from savory casseroles and coconut-milk stews to toughish scallops and decent sushi.


Pronunciation: /ˈtʌfli/
Example sentences
  • These acts are illegal and have to be pursued vigorously and toughly, without any exceptions.
  • However, Britain and the US may struggle to persuade the other three permanent members of the Security Council - France, Russia and China - not to use their vetoes to block such a toughly worded resolution.
  • As I have indicated, there is widespread ignorance of penal affairs, and talking toughly about crime and its punishment is a good way to appeal, through that ignorance, to the illiberal and the reactionary.


Old English tōh, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch taai and German zäh.

  • An Old English word related to taut (Middle English) the early spelling of which was tought. As a noun, meaning ‘a rough and violent man or youth’, it dates from the 1860s, in the USA. If you are as tough as old boots you are very sturdy or resilient. The earliest version of the phrase was as tough as leather. Before he became the British prime minister or even party leader, Tony Blair made a speech at the Labour Party Conference in September 1993, when he was Shadow Home Secretary. The speech brought him to public attention and included the words: ‘Labour is the party of law and order in Britain today. Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’.

For editors and proofreaders

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