29 Synonyms for DIFFICULT (+collocations and idioms)

Listen to “29 Synonyms and collocations with 'difficult'” on Spreaker.

We often need to say that something is not easy to do. Let’s learn some synonyms for describing difficult tasks and jobs.

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How to use ‘difficult’ in phrases

Difficult is an adjective: It’s a difficult job. It’s a difficult task. English is a difficult language to learn.

It identifies the noun’ job’, ‘task’, ‘language’ and so on.

But there is also a noun difficulty: I have difficulties with English writing. It is used with structures like I have or There is/there are.

Collocations with ‘difficult’

If you want to check combinations of words, it’s the best idea to use a dictionary of collocations. I recommend www.ozdic.com.

We will say:

very / extremely / incredibly / particularly / really + difficult


  • It’s an extremely difficult job
  • It’s an extremely difficult language.

Synonyms for DIFFICULT

  • tough (difficult to endure);
  • harsh (extremely difficult);
  • hard (difficult to accomplish or complete);
  • tricky (unclear, difficult to understand);
  • confusing (not easy to understand);
  • puzzling (confusingly difficult);
  • challenging (difficult in an interesting way);
  • demanding (requiring much effort);
  • onerous (involving a lot of energy);
  • daunting (scary in its difficulty);
  • baffling (confusingly difficult);
  • problematic (difficult to solve);
  • complex (having difficult structure);
  • complicated (feeling difficult);
  • frustrating (causing negative emotions);
  • sweaty (requiring a lot of physical effort).

Difference between ‘complex’ and ‘complicated’

Complex means ‘having a very difficultly organized structure.

  • We are going to university, it’s a complex task. (= it will include several stages, a lot of preparation and a lot of work). complicated’… right now

Complicated is now used more emotionally.

  • What is your relationship like? – It’s complicated.

Idioms meaning ‘something difficult

1. to grasp at straws

When you are grasping at straws, it means that you are losing and you are trying to find the last possible chance to win in this situation.

It usually describing some hopeless situation.


  • Maybe you will stop grasping at straws and admit you’ve lost?

2. Catch-22

When the situation is so tricky that you can’t find the solution. The solution here is impossible due to some circumstances, from the very beginning.


  • Finding your first job can feel like a Catch-22 because you need work experience to be hired but you just don’t have it yet.

3. vicious circle

One trouble leads to another and the situation never stops being difficult.


  • She believes the city’s gun problem is rooted in a vicious circle of family members encouraging younger relatives.

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Learn more synonyms

Episode 02 How to say ‘I don’t understand’

Episode 25 How to say ‘I don’t know’

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