What are the subtle differences in meanings between the following words?

  • Paradox
  • Conundrum
  • Dilemma
  • Plight
  • Have you looked them up in a good dictionary that gives examples of their use? Have you been able to explain why the different meanings differ only subtly - perhaps we might say 'homoionymous'?
    – Tuffy
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 22:07
  • An excellent list for a dictionary exercise.
    – Xanne
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 22:39

2 Answers 2


Some of these words have multiple meanings, but I am pointing the specific meaning which is in political/social or economic context as mentioned by you. (This answer took me so much time to write, hope it helps)

Paradox (noun) means a situation or statement that seems impossible or is difficult to understand because it contains two opposite facts or characteristics.

For example:

It's a paradox that drinking too much water makes you feel thirsty.

It's a paradox that our government talks about secularism and still favours a particular religion.

Conundrum (noun) is a problem or puzzle which is difficult or impossible to solve.

For example:

We tried to empower women in the region, but they opposed us saying 'they don't want to go against their husbands.' What a conundrum!

Dilemma (noun) is a difficult situation in which you have to choose between two or more almost similarly difficult alternatives.

For example:

I was trapped between a dry well and a high end cliff, there's no place to go instead of the two. God, what a dilemma!

Our government is facing a dilemma of either being secularist or nationalist.

Plight (noun) is an unpleasant condition, especially a serious, sad, or difficult one.

For example:

My problems don't carry any significance with the plight of the storm victims.

Hope, it helped :) Oof, I am tired now.

  • "This answer took me so much time to write, hope it helps." It definitely helped. Kudos for the efforts you put in researching the definitions and providing sentences relevant to the context despite the time being so late in the night. My understanding of these words has improved due to your concerted efforts. Always feels special when a neighbour helps you in any way. "Oof, I am tired now." Hope you got the reward of assisting me on this one and if not then eventually your journey will take you there. Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 21:06


  • Used to describe two or more irreconcilable truths. In common speech, a paradox can be used to describe a situation with conflicting qualities.
  • E.g. "Paradoxically, Senator So-and-So's approval rating among Democrats rose sharply after she officially left the party."


  • Used to describe a difficult problem, in particular a confusing problem.
  • E.g. "President So-and-So faced the conundrum of how to stem the flow of a drug that nobody had even named yet."


  • The meaning of dilemma is similar to that of conundrum, and there are instances where the two could be used interchangeably. A differentiating factor is that a dilemma usually refers to an especially difficult problem, regardless of whether the issue is confusing or complicated. Often there is no "good" solution to a dilemma.
  • E.g. "Mayor So-and-So addressed the dilemma of funding fire prevention in a community where the tax revenue had plummeted because of fire damage in the industrial area."


  • Plight refers to a person or thing's misfortune. A challenging or dangerous situation can be described as a plight, and the word is often used to describe the symptoms of a problem, rather than the problem on its face.
  • E.g. "Governor So-and-So's bill to add more teachers to inner-city schools aims to address the plight of underserved urban students."
  • 1
    This is some good information, but it would be a better answer if you linked to definitions at established reference sites.
    – Davo
    Commented Jun 25, 2019 at 21:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.