In the following sentence, can I use both phrases?

Many families are struggling against/with poverty and hunger.

What I think is:

struggling against means struggling to overcome the situation,

struggling with is to have a hard time in life because of poverty and hunger.

My teacher said that the correct one is struggling against, but I wonder if struggling with also makes sense.

I'm not sure if I get it right. Can you clarify the meanings?

Thank you!

  • 3
    Does this answer your question? "Struggle with" vs. "struggle against" – Edwin Ashworth Mar 17 '20 at 15:52
  • According to the answers, both can be used. However, in my test, the only answer is struggle against, and my teacher didn't accept the other. Therefore, I want to know the one which is better, or whether both are ok, in my context. Thank you anyway. – englishlearner Mar 17 '20 at 16:34
  • @englishlearner Please add all information about your question to the question: you can edit it. Currently the other question does answer this; yes, both make sense. The problem with test questions is that they often don't consider that there might be other alternatives to the "right" answer. – Andrew Leach Mar 17 '20 at 18:34
  • These Google 3-grams show that, at least for 'struggling ... poverty', 'with' was 4 times as common as 'against' recently. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 17 '20 at 19:12

You have almost answered your own question: The context/intended meaning in combination with the type of verb determines which preposition is used.

To struggle has two meanings

(i) to have severe difficulties (because of something) - "He struggled to stand up when he broke his leg/because of his broken leg/with his broken leg[1].

(ii) to fight for or against something "He struggled for political freedom and against oppression."

against carries the idea of "in opposition to"[2];

with carries the idea of (i) "when attended by" or (ii) "under the simultaneous influence of" or because of but it can mean (iii) "in the company of[3]."

Thus "I fought with my brother" can mean (i) you and your brother fought each other, or (ii) you and your brother fought together against a common enemy.

Many families are struggling against poverty and hunger. This indicates that the families are opposing poverty in principle, although they themselves are not necessarily poor.

Many families are struggling with poverty and hunger. can mean "in difficulties because of poverty" or are actively fighting against poverty (e.g. protesting against poverty)



Struggle: 1.a. intransitive. To contend (with an adversary) in a close grapple as in wrestling; also, in wider use, to make violent bodily movements in order to resist force or free oneself from constraint; to exert one's physical strength in persistent striving against an opposing force.

1856 E. K. Kane Arctic Explor. II. xv. 165 We struggled manfully to force our way through.

1905 E. Glyn Vicissitudes Evangeline 222 ‘No, no’, I said, struggling feebly to free myself.

2. a. figurative. To contend resolutely, esp. with an adversary of superior power; to offer obstinate resistance; to make violent efforts to escape from constraint. Constructed using with, against, for

1642 T. Fuller Holy State v. vi. 381 With these and other arguments he struggles with his own conscience.

1855 C. Kingsley Sir W. Raleigh in Misc. (1860) I. 14 Close to our own shores, the Netherlands are struggling vainly for their liberties.

1856 Ann. Reg., Chron. 65/1 The counsel for the prisoner attempted to struggle against both the evidence and the prisoner's statement.


Against: II. Expressing motion or action in opposition to someone or something.

2. a. In active hostility or opposition to; so as to fight with or attack (verbally or physically).

1849 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. II. 205 The whole Cavalier gentry were against him.

1849 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. II. 37 The members who had voted against the court were dismissed.


With: 39. a. Indicating the cause or reason: In consequence of, as a result of, by the action of; because of, by reason of, on account of; from, through, by.

1816 Ld. Byron Prisoner of Chillon 1 My hair is grey, but not with years.

1837 N. Hawthorne Great Carbuncle in Twice-told Tales The..branches..mossy with age.

  • It is against site policy to answer questions that have already been addressed. If you have more to add on the subject, an answer at the original question is appropriate. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 17 '20 at 19:15

You can use either phrase, at least in American English. "Struggling with" is probably the more idiomatic phrase for describing, e.g., a family having a hard time with something, or a personal fight against an illness or disadvantage. (E.g. "my struggle with cancer")

Struggling against, in my experience, has a more global scope. A family struggling against hunger could be struggling to overcome their personal situation, but phrases that use "against " tend more often to describe actions taken against the condition at large, rather than the condition in a personal scope. (e.g. more like "war on drugs" than "struggle to overcome addiction")

The post shared in Edwin Ashworth's comment treats this and related forms at length, and shows some very interesting cases.

  • So, contrary to the OP's teacher, with is more likely to be apt in a sentence about 'many families', in the absence of further context. Somebody who is speaking about 'families' in this way almost certainly has in mind how the families cope with their own poverty, because this is something that families do as families. Participating in some general political struggle against poverty is typically not something that families do as families, so if this is what one has in mind one would probably say something like 'Many people are struggling against . . . .' – jsw29 Mar 17 '20 at 18:42
  • 1
    I'm sorry; 'The post shared in [the cited duplicate] treats this and related forms at length ...' concedes that this is a duplicate. The correct course of action is thus to close-vote, not to answer. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 17 '20 at 19:13
  • Thanks @Edwin Ashworth. Your approach to duplicates makes sense, but the policy you mention is not highly visible (e.g. english.stackexchange.com/help/duplicates). Confounding matters, low-rep users are unable to close-vote, making that a non-viable alternative. If minimizing duplication is a primary goal, then lowering the bar for duplication close-votes would encourage more productive participation from newcomers, while also encouraging newcomers to research more before answering. – Chris Keefe Mar 18 '20 at 1:14
  • When a reasonable-looking claim for a duplicate has been made, one can check at the linked thread. If it is judged to really be a duplicate (obviously, it won't be exactly cut-and-paste) (usually, though this has to some extent happened), and one thinks one can add another valuable (perhaps corrective) answer, one may do so at the original thread. // Those not qualified to C-V may still add a 'yes; answered at the duplicate' comment. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 18 '20 at 11:49

You struggle with a singular adversary (or condition).

You struggle against either one or more adversaries (or conditions).

  • While there may be some bias in the direction you suggest, a Google search for << "struggling with all the" -energy -might >> yields 'about 1,560,000 results'; many of those on the first pages show plural noun (or equivalent) prepositional complements ('[After struggling with all the comparison tools' / 'struggling with all the decisions' / 'struggling with all the injured' / 'struggling with all the setup options' / '... frustrations' / 'leaves' / 'aps' / '2nd tri miscarriages' / 'topics' / 'requirements'.... A claim like this needs substantiating data / linked & attributed references. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 18 '20 at 10:58

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