noun di·lem·ma \də-ˈle-mə also dī-\

: a situation in which you have to make a difficult choice

Full Definition of DILEMMA

:  an argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives against an opponent
a :  a usually undesirable or unpleasant choice <faces this dilemma: raise interest rates and slow the economy or lower them and risk serious inflation>
b :  a situation involving such a choice <here am I brought to a very pretty dilemma; I must commit murder or commit matrimony — George Farquhar>; broadly :  predicament <lords and bailiffs were in a terrible dilemma — G. M. Trevelyan>
a :  a problem involving a difficult choice <the dilemma of “liberty versus order” — J. M. Burns>
b :  a difficult or persistent problem <unemployment … the great central dilemma of our advancing technology — August Heckscher>
dil·em·mat·ic \ˌdi-lə-ˈma-tik also -ˌdī-\ adjective

Usage Discussion of DILEMMA

Although some commentators insist that dilemma be restricted to instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory, their concern is misplaced; the unsatisfactoriness of the options is usually a matter of how the author presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make. The use of such adjectives as terrible, painful, and irreconcilable suggests that dilemma is losing some of its unpleasant force. There also seems to be a tendency especially in sense 3b toward applying the word to less weighty problems <solved their goaltending dilemma — Pat Calabria>.

Examples of DILEMMA

  1. When it comes to the boss, there is a real dilemma. You're caught between a career-limiting rejection of virtual friendship or a career-limiting access to photos of yourself glassy-eyed at a party. —Jared Sandberg, Wall Street Journal, 10 July 2007

Origin of DILEMMA

Late Latin, from Late Greek dilēmmat-, dilēmma, probably back-formation from Greek dilēmmatos involving two assumptions, from di- + lēmmat-, lēmma assumption — more at lemma
First Known Use: 1523
DILEMMA Defined for Kids


noun di·lem·ma \də-ˈle-mə\

Definition of DILEMMA for Kids

:  a situation in which a person has to choose between things that are all bad or unsatisfactory <He was faced with the dilemma of having to tell on his best friend, or not telling and getting blamed himself.>


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