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What's the difference between 'resolve' and 'solve'?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 12 down vote accepted

First of all, resolve has several meanings. There is one meaning that is clearly closest to solve, which I will assume is the one you want to differentiate.

So: When you resolve something (a problem, an issue, a question), you deal with it conclusively. You have finished it, it is done, there is nothing left to concern yourself about. This is not to say, however, that your handling of the matter was ideal, nor even necessarily satisfactory; there are many possible ways that the thing could have been dealt with, you picked one and saw it through.

When you solve something, you find (and presumably implement) a solution to it. This means that you have dealt with it successfully, finding what was quite possibly the only way (or at most one of a few ways) to succeed.

For example:

The issue has been resolved, although none of us is happy with the final outcome.

The question has been solved; the correct answer is posted for all to see.

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I'm not sure one can really 'solve' a question. One answers a question and solves a problem. I suspect, however, that many would agree that one can solve a question. –  Mike G Sep 2 '14 at 4:24

Resolve is used to mean the end of a conflict--"The differences between the two parties were resolved."

Solve is used to mean the solution to a logical problem--"He solved the math puzzle."



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Strictly speaking, resolve can mean the end of nearly anything: "This chord progression is about to resolve." –  MrHen Mar 24 '11 at 21:36
For me, resolve is used to end something problematic or where there are at least two opposing sides involved. More general than a conflict, but not "anything" as MrHen commented. –  B Seven Dec 27 '11 at 17:41
@MrHen I would say, informally speaking, that the word resolve can be used in relation to the end of nearly anything. Strictly, it's probably better used in situations with some sort of conflict as others have mentioned. –  Mike G Sep 2 '14 at 4:32

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