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adjective, tough·er, tough·est.
  1. strong and durable; not easily broken or cut.
  2. not brittle or tender.
  3. difficult to masticate, as food: a tough steak.
  4. of viscous consistency, as liquid or semiliquid matter: tough molasses.
  5. capable of great endurance; sturdy; hardy: tough troops.
  6. not easily influenced, as a person; unyielding; stubborn: a tough man to work for.
  7. hardened; incorrigible: a tough criminal.
  8. difficult to perform, accomplish, or deal with; hard, trying, or troublesome: a tough problem.
  9. hard to bear or endure (often used ironically): tough luck.
  10. vigorous; severe; violent: a tough struggle.
  11. vicious; rough; rowdyish: a tough character; a tough neighborhood.
  12. practical, realistic, and lacking in sentimentality; tough-minded.
  13. Slang. remarkably excellent; first-rate; great.
  1. in a tough manner.
  1. a ruffian; rowdy.
  1. hang tough, Slang. hang(def 56).
  2. tough it out, Informal. to endure or resist hardship or adversity.

Origin of tough

before 900; Middle English (adj.); Old English tōh; compare Dutch taai, German zäh(e)
Related formstough·ly, adverbtough·ness, nounsu·per·tough, adjectiveun·tough, adjectiveun·tough·ly, adverbun·tough·ness, noun

Synonyms for tough

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Antonyms for tough Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for tough

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Historical Examples of tough

British Dictionary definitions for tough


  1. strong or resilient; durablea tough material
  2. not tenderhe could not eat the tough steak
  3. having a great capacity for endurance; hardy and fita tough mountaineer
  4. rough or pugnaciousa tough gangster
  5. resolute or intractablea tough employer
  6. difficult or troublesome to do or deal witha tough problem
  7. informal unfortunate or unluckyit's tough on him
  1. a rough, vicious, or pugnacious person
  1. informal violently, aggressively, or intractablyto treat someone tough
  2. hang tough informal to be or appear to be strong or determined
  1. (tr) slang to stand firm, hold out against (a difficulty or difficult situation) (esp in tough it out)
Derived Formstoughish, adjectivetoughly, adverb

Word Origin for tough

Old English tōh; related to Old High German zāhi tough, Old Norse trodden ground in front of a house
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

Word Origin and History for tough

Old English toh "difficult to break or chew," from Proto-Germanic *tankhuz (cf. Middle Low German tege, Middle Dutch taey, Dutch taai, Old High German zach, German zäh). See rough for spelling change.

Figurative sense of "strenuous, difficult, hard to beat" is first recorded c.1200; that of "hard to do, trying, laborious" is from 1610s. Verb tough it "endure the experience" is first recorded 1830, American English. Tough guy first recorded 1932. Tough-minded first recorded 1907 in William James. Tough luck first recorded 1912; tough shit is from 1946.


"street ruffian," 1866, American English, from tough (adj.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with tough


In addition to the idioms beginning with tough

  • tough break
  • tough it out
  • tough nut
  • tough row to hoe
  • tough sledding

also see:

  • get tough
  • gut (tough) it out
  • hang tough
  • hard (tough) act to follow
  • hard (tough) nut to crack
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.