I looked up adversity in three different advanced learner's dictionaries and here are the results.

  • Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 5th Edition: "a situation in which you have a lot of problems that seem to be caused by bad luck"
  • Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary 4th Edition: "a difficult or unlucky situation or event"
  • Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary 9th Edition: "a difficult or unpleasant situation"

Personally, I feel like the Cambridge and Oxford definitions are too vague and generic for the need for a word like adversity aside from more frequently occurring words such as difficulty or trouble, which can only bring about more tiresome "the-difference-between" questions. Based on the applications of the word in my textbook which are typically in the context of "being caused by bad luck" (born blind, involved in a plane crash, stuck in a snowstorm, etc.), I feel like the Longman definition should be the reliable one. What do you think?

  • The first two definitions are very close, though CALD's 'first 'or' is probably better replaced with a slash (and/or). But CALD's 'unlucky' is less hedged than Longman's 'that seem to be caused by bad luck', and may be considered unjustified by those not believing in a malevolent 'fate'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 13 '16 at 10:14
  • A lot depends on what you call "bad luck". "Adversity" does not simply involve failing to win the lottery. – Hot Licks Nov 14 '16 at 1:53
  • Luck is not an essential element of the definition of the term even though it is often used in situations where bad fortune is part of the cause. – ohwilleke Nov 14 '16 at 2:15
  • Yep, someone climbing Mt Everest faces adversity, even if nothing "unlucky" happens to them. – Hot Licks Nov 14 '16 at 2:46
  • @HotLicks Failing to win the lottery doesn't seem to be "a situation in which you have a lot of problems" though. You'd simply say "Nah, maybe better luck next time". – Vun-Hugh Vaw Nov 14 '16 at 3:18

The term refers to situations that are unfavourable or against you for different reasons which may commonly be associated to bad luck:


  • When circumstances or situations work against you, you face adversity. Refugees from war-torn countries encounter terrible adversity.

  • Adversity, a noun which has been part of the English language for over 800 years, comes from the Latin adversus, literally "turned against," and figuratively "hostile or unfavorable."

  • When things seem against you — circumstances or a stoke of bad luck — you are facing adversity. Sometimes people use a form of the phrase "turning adversity into opportunity." This refers to the ability some people or companies have to take a bad situation and make it into a successful one.


  • So which is your pick? – Vun-Hugh Vaw Nov 13 '16 at 8:09
  • 1
    I think all definition are correct. The phrase "seem to be caused by bad luck" is an additional note which refers to a widespread belief. – user66974 Nov 13 '16 at 8:12

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