adjective, tough·er, tough·est.


in a tough manner.


a ruffian; rowdy.


    hang tough, Slang. hang(def 56).
    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

Antonyms for tough Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for toughs

Contemporary Examples of toughs

  • Street battles between rival gangs of toughs are now reportedly raging in cities around the country.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Thy Hand, Great Anarch!

    Hussein Ibish

    August 14, 2013

  • With the coup enacted, though, the response even among the toughs, at Rabaa at least, seemed one of apprehension.

    The Daily Beast logo
    The Crackdown Begins

    Mike Giglio

    July 4, 2013

Historical Examples of toughs

  • Toughs as they were, these two men fully appreciated the company they were in.

    The Law-Breakers

    Ridgwell Cullum

  • You say my paper isn't fit for aught but toughs and muckers?

    Rippling Rhymes

    Walt Mason

  • We might even turn the Toughs loose on them, without weapons.

    Rebels of the Red Planet

    Charles Louis Fontenay

  • Why, he wondered, didn't the Masters make the Toughs sweep their own barracks?

    Rebels of the Red Planet

    Charles Louis Fontenay

  • Shadow appeared at the recess to report to them that the Toughs had passed on.

    Rebels of the Red Planet

    Charles Louis Fontenay

British Dictionary definitions for toughs



strong or resilient; durablea tough material
not tenderhe could not eat the tough steak
having a great capacity for endurance; hardy and fita tough mountaineer
rough or pugnaciousa tough gangster
resolute or intractablea tough employer
difficult or troublesome to do or deal witha tough problem
informal unfortunate or unluckyit's tough on him


a rough, vicious, or pugnacious person


informal violently, aggressively, or intractablyto treat someone tough
hang tough informal to be or appear to be strong or determined


(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 toughs



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 toughs


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.