13 Other Words for Difficult

There are other words for difficult that you need to know. These alternative words will help you boost your vocabulary, particularly if you want to upgrade your English level.

Hi, there this is Harry and I want to talk to you today about the word difficult. D I F F I C U L T. Let’s learn how and when we use the word ‘difficult’ and what does it mean.

Words to use instead of difficult

Other Words for Difficult

Other words for difficult. How to say difficult in English. www.englishlessonviaskype.com #learnenglish #englishlessons #английский #angielski #nauka #ingles #Idiomas #idioms #English #englishteacher #ielts #toefl #vocabulary #ingilizce #inglese

Of course, it’s not such a difficult word to explain and we use it a lot when we have a problem with homework when we have a problem with our sports activities or relationships so it’s a common word and in that use.

But with English and particularly when I’m teaching English, I like my students to understand alternative options, synonyms that they can use so they don’t have to repeat the same word over and over again.

And, of course, if you’re studying English seriously and you want to take some exams (FCE, IELTS) then a broader and wider vocabulary is absolutely essential.

Particularly for the spoken and written parts of those exams.

Even if you’re going on to higher-level English and you want to do some perhaps creative writing.

Well, then you know vast an increased range of words is really really important. 

So as I said, difficult is a word we use when we have a problem. 

My work is difficult because my boss keeps asking me to do more and more.

My social life is difficult because I don’t have a girlfriend.

My sports life is difficult because I’m not fit and I can’t get on the football team. 

Okay. So we can use the word difficult difficult difficult.

Here are some alternatives that you might like to consider instead of difficult:




AWKWARD (I’ll come back to that. A little bit of a question about whether we should or we shouldn’t use it)




13 Other Words to Say Difficult in English

So there you have a lot of alternatives that you can use. 

Some of them directly can be substituted, others you just have to be careful in the circumstances in which you use them. So let me give you some examples.


The exam was really tough.

There were some tough questions in the quiz.

Tough is directly substituted or substitutional for the word difficult.

My exam was very difficult. My exam question number 2 was difficult.

Question number 2 was tough.

So they can substitute those directly for each other.


Another word that we can substitute directly.

My exam was difficult.

My exam was hard. Question number 2 was very hard.

Okay. So exactly the same meaning here as tough and exactly the same meaning as difficult. 

13 Other Words to Say Difficult in English

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While demanding can have a few different meanings and we can say something is difficult it’s demanding but when it’s not impossible.

The work he has to do these days is quite demanding because he recently got promoted and therefore there’s more expected of him.

Married life can be quite demanding. Pressures of relationships, buying a home, repaying the mortgage, having children these are all aspects of married life that are quite demanding.

And again we could use the word difficult.


Here this could have the same meaning as difficult but has a slightly different context.

The opponents that we are playing on Saturday are quite a formidable team. They haven’t been beaten all season so we’re really going to have our work cut out (meaning: it’s going to be difficult) if we’re going to get anything out of the game. If we are going to beat them.

So this opposition is quite formidable.

His opponent in the boxing match was the most formidable person he has fought to date. This person has never been defeated and he is really strong. He’s really well-built, he is extremely fit and it would be quite an achievement to win that fight.

So this opponent is quite formidable.

We could say difficult but difficult wouldn’t quite give you the same meaning whereas formidable gives you more expression that he’s tough, he’s strong, he’s fit and you know it’s going to be quite an achievement to succeed.

13 Other Words to Say Difficult in English


Competition can be challenging.

A question can be challenging.

Any particular activity that we find a little difficult can be challenging.

Completing a marathon run can be challenging if you’ve never run the distance before.


I mentioned in the introduction of the video the word awkward.

I wouldn’t be inclined to use awkward as difficult. It can be used but it has many other meanings as well, so I wouldn’t use it as an option for difficult.

Awkward means you are not quite comfortable with something. Something is not necessarily difficult but it is uncomfortable.



Meaning: extremely difficult, something that requires a lot of effort

The words onerous and arduous are a little bit more of a higher-level English and so you can practice these. These are again the good words to substitute for difficult.

The task that they set them was very onerous, it took many hours to complete it.

The walk up the hill wasn’t really a walk, it was a trek and it was very arduous. 


An Augean task is an extremely difficult task that is impossible to complete.

Sarah was faced with the Augean task of cleaning up the communal kitchen after a party.


Meaning: very difficult, something that is very tiring and requires a lot of continuous effort

Cycling up that hill was gruelling but I’ve dreamt of this moment since I was about 12.


Meaning: this is a soft word to describe something that is difficult

Some of the technical questions were very tricky, but you got a great score. Well done!

Other Words to Say Difficult in English

And a couple of not slang expressions but more informal English expressions that we can use to describe something difficult.

be no picnic

Picnic is a very nice thing to have out in the park, with some sandwiches a glass of wine or whatever you’re having.

When we say something is no picnic it means it is quite difficult.

Being a freelancer is no picnic.

be no walk in the park

Again, a walk in the park is something quite interesting and exciting, something you can easily do.

So when we say something was no walk in the park it means it was quite difficult.

Arranging a charity event is no walk in the park.

More Information

For more information on English grammar rules, English collocations and English idioms, check out the links below:

22 Business phrasal verbs

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