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

  • I've always considered that if a problem was 'resolved', it's been solved for at least the second time. Why can't that hold true?
    – Tim
    May 31, 2020 at 9:49

3 Answers 3


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.

  • 6
    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, 2014 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."



  • Strictly speaking, resolve can mean the end of nearly anything: "This chord progression is about to resolve."
    – MrHen
    Mar 24, 2011 at 21:36
  • 2
    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, 2011 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, 2014 at 4:32
  • In the case of the chord progression, it is when the dissonant chord proceeds to the consonant once that the progression resolves. So the idea of conflict is present here. Jul 11, 2017 at 16:57

I think that re-solution means that you need to separate two or more entities. Therefore, resolution also stands for measurement quality: the stronger is your optics or sensors, the finer you can find the difference (between objects). Otherwise, if your resolution is too low, the objects look fused and you are confused. Confusion is opposite to resolution in the sense that you cannot separate the fused entities. Solution, on the other hand, means that you have only one task, one question and, if answer is found, you have solved it. You have nothing to distinguish between.

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