English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is this usage of "to have difficulty with" ok?

I've been having some difficulty with reading the books that I decide to read.

A Google search suggested that the "with" may perhaps be dropped, but I'd prefer to keep it if it is ok. A noun after "having difficulty with" seems more clearly ok, like in "I'm having difficulty with the homework", but I wasn't sure about the quoted sentence above.

share|improve this question
The with is a verbosity: it's redundant. Why do you want to keep it? It does no work in the sentence: it adds no meaning or clarity; it merely increases the word count. Delete it for better style. Keep it if you prefer: it's your sentence, so it's your choice. – user21497 May 5 '13 at 5:39
Thanks for your comment. The original version of the sentence was slightly different--"I've been having a bit of difficulty with reading some of the things I decide to read."--and the with seemed helpful in that version, for some reason. I think I'll drop it as you say. – Azo May 5 '13 at 6:02
The addition of with brings in a subtle difference in meaning. Please research and edit your question with your findings. See: 1 [uncountable] if you have difficulty with something, you are not able to do it easily; 2 [countable] a problem (macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/difficulty) – Kris May 5 '13 at 7:21
@Kris, on the Macmillan page, with is used for both [uncountable] and [countable] difficulty, so the page seems no reference for "a subtle difference in meaning." – Ulrich Stern May 13 at 18:52

difficulty reading the books suggests some external mechanism is hampering your reading. Perhaps the books are hard to obtain, water damaged, or in an impenetrable dialect or high register.

difficulty with reading the books suggests an internal / subjective barrier. Perhaps you don't enjoy the genre, or are not sufficiently advanced in study of the topic.

share|improve this answer
Thank you. Do you have a reference for this distinction? Or could you refer me to some usage examples online? – Azo May 5 '13 at 8:37
Perhaps you could have put it a bit differently. "With suggests an internal/ subjective barrier, while its absence does not expressly." – Kris May 5 '13 at 11:15
Interesting. I would use them precisely the opposite way, but that's normal for a semantic distinction based on personal experience and idiolect. There are millions of possible alternations like this, and most of them don't have any meaning difference, unless somebody decides they want to use one to express some distinction. Then they do, and if it catches on, it becomes part of the language. But most don't. – John Lawler May 5 '13 at 14:24

The with is extra when using a verb (such as difficulty with reading the...), but is needed when using a noun (can't say having difficulty the homework).

share|improve this answer
Thanks. When you say "extra", do you mean "unnecessary but possibly ok", or "not ok"? – Azo May 5 '13 at 4:47

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.