[ prob-luhm ]
/ ˈprɒb ləm /
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See synonyms for: problem / problems on Thesaurus.com

any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty.
a question proposed for solution or discussion.
Mathematics. a statement requiring a solution, usually by means of a mathematical operation or geometric construction.
difficult to train or guide; unruly: a problem child.
Literature. dealing with choices of action difficult either for an individual or for society at large: a problem play.
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Idioms about problem

    no problem, Informal.
    1. (used as a conventional reply to a request or to express confirmation or affirmation): Sure, no problem, I can do that right away.
    2. (used as a conventional reply to an expression of gratitude or thanks): No problem, I’m glad I could help!

Origin of problem

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English probleme, from Middle French problème, from Latin problēma, from Greek próblēma “something thrown or put forward, projection, obstacle, defence, something offered as an excuse, something proposed as a task, practical or theoretical problem” (akin to probállein “to throw or lay before”), equivalent to pro- pro-2 + -blē-, variant stem of bállein “to throw” (cf. parabola) + -ma noun suffix of result


sub·prob·lem, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a basic definition of problem?

A problem is a situation, question, or thing that causes difficulty, stress, or doubt. A problem is also a question raised to inspire thought. In mathematics, a problem is a statement or equation that requires a solution. Problem has a few other senses as a noun and an adjective.

A problem is a thing or event that causes you to wonder, cry, panic, or get angry. Life is full of problems that we try our best to handle. Something that involves problems or resembles a problem is said to be problematic.

  • Real-life examples: A clogged toilet is an annoying problem. A rock in your shoe is often just a small problem. An international war is a big problem that causes many other problems for a large number of people.
  • Used in a sentence: I need to pass this final exam or I am going to have a big problem with the grade for this class! 

Problem is used in this same sense as an adjective to mean something is unruly or difficult to handle.

  • Real-life examples: A problem car doesn’t run well. A problem school has a lot of difficulties that need to be solved. A problem child is someone who is considered rowdy or unruly.
  • Used in a sentence: Instead of labeling someone a “problem child,” we should try to understand why the child acts the way they do. 

A problem is a question or puzzle that is intended to be solved or to be deeply thought about.

  • Real-life examples: Your teacher may present a problem to the class so you can use what you’ve learned to solve it. Scientists present problems to other scientists so they can work together to think about them and discover new information.
  • Used in a sentence: Ivan managed to solve the problem of how to separate the rocks and the sand. 

In math, a problem is a mathematical statement that lacks a solution (answer) that a student or testee is expected to provide. This sense is nearly always specifically phrased as a “math problem.” These kinds of problems are frequently a source of pain and misery to math students.

  • Real-life examples: Examples of math problems include “2 + 2 = ?” and “3x + 2y = 30. x = 4. Solve for y.”
  • Used in a sentence: The math exam consisted of 100 problems that ranged in difficulty. 

Where does problem come from?

The first records of problem come from around 1350. It comes from the Greek próblēma, meaning “something thrown or put forward.”  It is a noun made by combining the Greek prefix pro- and the verb bállein, meaning “to throw.”

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What are some other forms related to problem?

  • subproblem (noun)

What are some synonyms for problem?

What are some words that share a root or word element with problem

What are some words that often get used in discussing problem?

How is problem used in real life?

Problem is a common word that people use to refer to things that cause stress or difficulty.

Try using problem!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of problem?

A. difficulty
B. answer
C. trouble
D. issue

How to use problem in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for problem

/ (ˈprɒbləm) /

  1. any thing, matter, person, etc, that is difficult to deal with, solve, or overcome
  2. (as modifier)a problem child
a puzzle, question, etc, set for solution
maths a statement requiring a solution usually by means of one or more operations or geometric constructions
(modifier) designating a literary work that deals with difficult moral questionsa problem play

Word Origin for problem

C14: from Late Latin problēma, from Greek: something put forward; related to proballein to throw forwards, from pro- ² + ballein to throw
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 problem


see no problem.

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