Are "impose a problem" and "pose a problem" both correct? If not, why? An example usage I have is:

"We're doing X. This imposes two problems: 1) ... 2) ..."

However I can't find a credible reference for using the word "impose" this way - only "pose": https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/pose - I'm sure though I've "heard it" ;) being used that way.

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    "impose a problem" - this sounds you have overheard like careless speech. Problems, questions, difficulties and similar issues are all posed by circumstance of some sort. "The rain poses a problem for tennis players today." Things that are imposed are conditions placed upon someone by force or legal means. "Taxes are imposed on the wealthy."
    – Anton
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 10:29
  • @Anton Thanks for clarifying. Is it possible that if the problem is necessarily implied by the rules of logic it may be said that it's imposed? Or does it still sounds wrong?
    – BartoszKP
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 11:17
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    There really needs to be more of a direct cause-and-effect relation between subject and direct object referents. 'those limits imposed by our own inadequacies' — C. H. Plimpton. While the acceptability of impose here on semantic grounds is arguable, it's certainly not an idiomatic usage (looking like pose's poor relative). In fact, I'd prefer 'gives rise to two ...'. As Orwell says, avoid the incongruous [unless you have an ulterior motive]. Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 11:51
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    If the logical rules are particularly stringent and unforgiving it may be possible to use impose but in general I would prefer pose. As an extreme example, I one might say that "I always tell lies" imposes impossible constraints on the truth of my utterings.
    – Anton
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 12:19
  • Pose a problem and you present a challenge—no one's fault. Impose a problem, and you push the problem's cost onto the solution. If I am imposing, I'm making you pay some unwelcome dues, The likely candidate for your sentence is poses, as imposes is close to anthropomorphic. Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 14:19

1 Answer 1


"We're doing X. This imposes two problems: 1) ... 2) ..."

Put simply, that is wrong - you have used "impose" wrongly. The subject of "impose" must have authority over its object.

To impose - to place a burden (or unfavourable conditions) on someone or something.

Transitive: 2020 Greybeard EL&U: "The king imposed a tax on all wine and beer. The king imposed severe punishments on anyone failing to pay the tax."

Intransitive: 2020 Greybeard EL&U: "Can I ask you to drive me to see my mother - I hope I am not imposing on you."


4.a. To lay on, as something to be borne, endured, or submitted to; to inflict (something) on or upon; to levy or enforce authoritatively or arbitrarily.

1849 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. II. vi. 159 Pretending to abhor tests, he had himself imposed a test.

1854 J. S. C. Abbott Napoleon (1885) lxi. 471/1 [Alexander said] We have no wish to impose the Bourbons on the French people.

  • You've got access to and venerate OED, so this answer is very puzzling. Even M-W has << Definition of impose [transitive verb] ... 1b: to establish or bring about as if by force ... those limits imposed by our own inadequacies — C. H. Plimpton >> Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 11:42
  • I am relying upon a knowledge of English gained from over 70 years of speaking the language. There comes a point at which the OP's assumption is so obviously incorrect and at which my, and your, authority is no less than that of the OED.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 11:47
  • 'The subject of "impose" must have authority over its object.' That strongly implies a volitional agent. But broadened usages occur. OP's 'We're doing X' (one possible antecedent of 'this') is probably about as agentive a subject as 'our own inadequacies'. Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 11:56
  • @Greybeard Thank you for your answer. It makes sense to me, however as for "I am relying upon a knowledge of English gained from over 70 years of speaking the language" - I'd prefer evidence-based answer from an eminence-based one. If you could take Edwin's part into account I could accept the answer - thank you.
    – BartoszKP
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 11:59
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    I'll reverse the downvote if you add an example with a non-sentient subject referent, and adjust the 'must have authority over' overprescription. Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 12:53

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