In an essay I put a sentence like: I knew that accounting can be hard and covers multiple areas of specialties...

someone suggested using "challenging" to replace the word "hard". While I agree that challenging can be used in this context, I failed to see anything wrong with "hard". I can't however, make a strong argument about why we should choose one over the other. I can only sense that both are OK, only that each might have some subtle differences.

Anyone here can better explain?


Although "hard" and challenging have the same meaning and are synonyms that can theoretically be used interchangeably the differences are not subtle. In an essay or piece of writing for school or work the goal is usually to have a formal tone or style.

This is why instead of writing "I was bad at saying stuff" a formal essayist might say "I could not articulate my words."

The word hard likewise is a somewhat crude and overused word that has the potential to devalue what you are saying, and while it is perfectly acceptable to use in conversation it would be out of place in many circumstances and writings.

Some broader context would help as this is a question of style, what are you writing this for?

  • thanks, this essay is for applying admission to a graduate school. So you are saying "challenging" is more appropriate in this circumstances? – J.E.Y Jan 30 '17 at 3:09
  • Definitely. For this circumstance the more advanced your words can be without going overboard and using a thesaurus every other word the better. Also I'm not sure but "Accounting could be hard" might be more grammatically correct. I would suggest going through you work with an advanced spelling and grammer checker i.e grammarly and having multiple people help you revise to make it the best it can be. GOOD LUCK – tenthdoctor Jan 30 '17 at 3:14
  • thanks for the suggestion, i'll check out some spelling & grammer checkers. But, just to be more clear, are you saying "Accounting could be hard" might be more grammatically correct? – J.E.Y Jan 30 '17 at 3:17
  • I'm not sure at the moment I would need more context. I believe so though. – tenthdoctor Jan 30 '17 at 3:20
  • thanks anyway. as i said, it's an essay of application for an accounting program in graduation school. I just felt "hard" sounds better in the sentence. The whole paragraph goes: "Due to my family’s influences, I became fascinated by accounting. I knew that accounting can be hard and it covers multiple areas of specialties;.however, I was not intimidated by the complexity. Rather, I was eager to confront the challenges. " – J.E.Y Jan 30 '17 at 3:25

Hard generally implies simple difficulty, as when solving a math problem might require hand-multiplying several 20-digit numbers. The work is laborious, but it does not necessarily require exceptional skill or insight.

Challenging, on the other hand, suggests that the problem might require, say, solving some differential equations or inventing a new theory.

If climbing mountains, Mountain A might be hard to climb, simply because it requires great effort, but Mountain B might be challenging to climb, as it requires advanced techniques (and perhaps a bit of risk).

  • Thank you for explaining. Studying normally requires advanced skills alright, however "hard" still sound better to me, no reason, just a feeling from my experience of reading many articles. – J.E.Y Jan 30 '17 at 3:29

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