[ dih-lem-uh ]
/ dɪˈlɛm ə /
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See synonyms for: dilemma / dilemmas on Thesaurus.com

a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives.
any difficult or perplexing situation or problem.
Logic. a form of syllogism in which the major premise is formed of two or more hypothetical propositions and the minor premise is a disjunctive proposition, as “If A, then B; if C then D. Either A or C. Therefore, either B or D.”
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Origin of dilemma

First recorded in 1515–25; from Late Latin, from Greek dílēmma, equivalent to di- “two, twice” (see di-1) + lêmma “an assumption, premise,” derivative of lambánein “to take”

synonym study for dilemma

1. See predicament.

historical usage of dilemma

The word dilemma combines di-, a prefix meaning "two," with lemma, meaning "a proposition, theme, or subject." Our world is filled with propositions, themes, and subjects—matters about which we have to make a variety of decisions as we move through life. If we are forced to make a choice between two courses of action, or between doing something and not doing it, and if neither choice is a good one, we are in a dilemma in its primary sense—faced with a double bind, caught between Scylla and Charybdis, trapped between a rock and a hard place, and truly on the horns of a dilemma. As we can see, the sense of dilemma that deals exclusively with two unpleasant alternatives is powerful enough to have engendered a good deal of descriptive language over the years. But in today’s complex environment, if people tell you they are in a dilemma, you cannot be sure that their problem is restricted to two choices. They may be facing a situation of much greater complexity. While the first meaning is still the most common, the broadening of dilemma to include this more general sense of "any difficult or perplexing situation or problem," is an example of normal language growth. The first meaning of dilemma, involving two choices, remains alive and well. But this broader meaning is not only common and acceptable, it is found in multiple examples of educated writing.


dil·em·mat·ic [dil-uh-mat-ik], /ˌdɪl əˈmæt ɪk/, dil·em·mat·i·cal, di·lem·mic, adjectivedil·em·mat·i·cal·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use dilemma in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for dilemma

/ (dɪˈlɛmə, daɪ-) /

a situation necessitating a choice between two equal, esp equally undesirable, alternatives
a problem that seems incapable of a solution
logic a form of argument one of whose premises is the conjunction of two conditional statements and the other of which affirms the disjunction of their antecedents, and whose conclusion is the disjunction of their consequents. Its form is if p then q and if r then s; either p or r so either q or s
on the horns of a dilemma
  1. faced with the choice between two equally unpalatable alternatives
  2. in an awkward situation

Derived forms of dilemma

dilemmatic (ˌdɪlɪˈmætɪk, ˌdaɪlɪ-) or dilemmic, adjective

Word Origin for dilemma

C16: via Latin from Greek, from di- 1 + lēmma assumption, proposition, from lambanein to take, grasp

usage for dilemma

The use of dilemma to refer to a problem that seems incapable of a solution is considered by some people to be incorrect
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with dilemma


see horns of a dilemma.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.