What is the correct form? "We have been in a dilemma" or "We have had a dilemma"? Or are the two of them incorrect? I'm a non-native English speaker discussing this with another non-native speaker.

  • Why is the question being downvoted? I just read the FAQ and I see nothing wrong with the question. An explanation would be useful. – Dante Feb 28 '13 at 19:18
  • 2
    Don't know about downvote. Keep in mind that phrases like “Thank you in advance” should not be included. Do you know about ell.stackexchange.com for English Language Learners? – James Waldby - jwpat7 Feb 28 '13 at 19:27
  • Perhaps the downvotes reflect the lack of research. – MetaEd Mar 1 '13 at 5:32
  • When I have this type of questions I google the expressions and check how many results each return. In this case it was not conclusive, therefore my question. – Dante Mar 1 '13 at 8:36

A dilemma describes a position of doubt in which two (occasionally more) choices are available. It's not something you have, but something you're in.

  • "We have a dilemma" or "we had a dilemma" is perfectly fine. But "we have had a dilemma" seems to me to be an incorrect use of the perfect tense for some reason (I have no clue why), with "we have been in a dilemma" the proper alternative. – Peter Shor Feb 28 '13 at 20:09
  • @Peter Shor. With all the usual cautions about corpus searches, there are 60 records for in a dilemma in the COCA and 18 for have a dilemma. The figures for the BNC are 24 and 3. The OED has 12 citations for in a dilemma and none for have a dilemma. – Barrie England Feb 28 '13 at 20:51

One also sees: He is on the horns of a dilemma.


Expanding on GEdgar's reply,

In Odysseus' idiomatic dilemma he had to choose between one of two courses for his ship, embodied in two ravenous monsters: Scylla and Charybdis. That's where the horns come from, it seems.

protected by tchrist Apr 4 '17 at 2:14

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