A reviewer of my thesis told me that I am wrongly using the word problematic, and suggested that I use problem instead. I have since read the definition of both words and neither correspond to the French definition I was looking for. So which noun is correct to refer to the object of research, in the context of a thesis? Here is an example sentence:

This thesis provides potential solutions to the problematic outlined.

Please don't think that this is not a real question: remember that word usage is one of the hardest parts of English writing for native French speakers.

  • 11
    Problematic is a typical case of a false friend. Where French has problématique, German has Problematik, Russian has проблематика, etc., English does not have problematic. Instead, it has "a complex of problems" or "a problem set".
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 14 '12 at 23:04
  • 3
    Oh, and then there's problematics (plural) as well as (drum roll please) problematique. Courtesy of Vitaly in our chat.
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 14 '12 at 23:20
  • 2
    If your thesis topic is in one of the humanities and your thesis advisor is in any way pro-post-modernism, then use the word as Foucault would. Otherwise, stick to @RegDwigнt 's suggestion.
    – user31341
    Nov 21 '14 at 0:07

Yes, you should definitely use problem instead. Problematic (as an adjective) is how one would describe something that poses (or can pose) a problem.


a: a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution
b: a proposition in mathematics or physics stating something to be done


a : posing a problem : difficult to solve or decide
b : not definite or settled : uncertain
c : open to question or debate : questionable

  • 1
    Which dictionary are you using ? Most British ones (eg Chambers), and certainly many English teachers, say that problematic means 'of the nature of a problem', which fits well with your 2 and 3, but is absolutely not 1. Which causes problems for students. Mar 14 '12 at 22:23
  • 1
    Merriam-Webster. I will move my links and admit that I should consult other dictionaries. :) Mar 14 '12 at 22:29
  • 3
    Perhaps it's a UK/US thing - I (American) have never seen problematic used as a noun.
    – Lynn
    Mar 14 '12 at 22:45
  • 2
    That is indeed problematic.
    – Jim
    Mar 14 '12 at 22:49
  • 2
    From the noun entry for problematic: First Known Use of PROBLEMATIC: 1957 Mar 14 '12 at 23:01

It should indeed be problem: problematic is the adjective, problem is the noun.

That was problematic.

I have a problem.

Words that end in -atic are very often adjectives.

  • @JasperLoy: Except one finds the latter mainly in the plural: problematics. Cf. mathematics &c.
    – Robusto
    Apr 8 '12 at 14:26

I have struggled with "problematics" as a noun for a while when I started reading some French academics and took a lecturer who studied in France. At first I thought they were wrong but I just accepted it. Later on I was suprised by the usage also used by non-French academics.

Here are some examples from the Oxford English Dictionary:

B. Freq. in pl. A thing that constitutes a problem or an area of difficulty, esp. in a particular field of study.

1892 W. Wallace Logic of Hegel (ed. 2) 385 Krug's proposal (in his ‘Fundamental Philosophy’, 1803) to start with what he called 'philosophical problematics'.

1910 Amer. Jrnl. Sociol. 16 376 The presupposition of all representation, which has no part in the never wholly suppressible problematics of its contents.

1957 R. K. Merton Social Theory (rev. ed.) ii. Introd. 127 Working out its problematics, i.e., the principal problems (conceptual, substantive and procedural).

1997 Church Times 14 Mar. 14/3 We have a series of brilliantly original readings of the parables, to demonstrate their anchorage in the particular problematic of the day.

2004 Chicago Tribune (Nexis) 11 Apr. c1 Poems preoccupied with the problematics of seeing, of perspective, of the philosophical implications thereof.

Note that I got this from a public library website in New Zealand. I'm not sure if the Oxford English Dictionary is offered through other parts of the world libraries. See if the librarian can help.

  • @Canada The link (and any link to OED) only works for those with a relevant library card. Because of this, OED is usually quoted without a link.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 6 '18 at 8:30

I found this discussion quite helpful.

But in my own words I would (as a translator) sum up what the French mean by "une problématique" thus: it is a problem or a set of problems together with an approach to them putatively suited to finding a satisfactory solution.

Since we have no single English word to denote this, my practice has been to use "problematic" (preceded by an article, when in the singular) as a noun. The (English and American) readers of the kinds of texts I translate (philosophical in a broad sense) are generally sufficiently sophisticated to know that this admittedly new use of the word has a special meaning, and so will try by the context to get a sense of it.

And I would say that in my observation the term, used as a noun in this way, has been appearing here and there for some time now in English--at least since the 1960s.


My attention to this question was prompted by reading a sentence in "Pagan and Christian: Religious Change in Early Medieval Europe" by David Petts (p.15). The author writes: " . . . the problematic relationship between religious belief and . . . practice permeates debates . . . and continues to exist as a key problematic in modern studies of the history of religion". My first reaction was to think that the second use of the word was ungrammatical. But after reading the above posts and then re-reading the text again, I now see that the author first demonstrates that he is aware of how to use the word as an adjective, so his second use of the word is clearly intentional. I accept that, and see further that the author is signalling that a "problematic", used as a noun, is more than merely a "problem". He seems to be using the word (now this is my interpretation, not his) to indicate that a "problematic" is something like an area of academic uncertainty (perhaps involving a series of related problems, or questions), or requiring further investigation, and is under discussion by experts in the field. Thus we have a new word added to the English Language (or, rather, a new use for an old word). This is a good thing, and I approve.



You use problematic if you want to impress people. I mean, why say problem when you could much more fancily say problematic. Fifty years ago, almost no one used problematic. It's like resonate today. Everybody who wants to be impressive, must use that word. Ten years ago, no one used it. When someone says, "That resonates with me," I just hear gongs going off in my head. When I really agree with something, I just say I dig it. But then, I am an old hippie. Art Holmberg, Yachats, Oregon

  • Although if you do want to impress, be very careful of your audience, given the wide confusion and lack of consensus as to its meaning. You risk sounding either pompous or stupid (or both).
    – itsbruce
    Nov 21 '14 at 9:41
  • 1
    Yes, Bruce, that is exactly what I was getting at, the use of problematic is often pompous and stupid. Like saying "At this point in time," rather than simply saying "now." Nov 21 '14 at 19:07
  • 1
    Based on other posts in this thread, it sounds like the use of "problematic" as a noun in English is a specialized/jargon term in some philosophical writings, probably based on the usage of French "problématique." Not based on people being "pompous and stupid" or trying to impress people. Your viewpoint seems very uncharitable for no good reason.
    – herisson
    Aug 15 '15 at 3:54

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_question: Problematique is a term that functions analogously to the research problem or question used typically when addressing global systemic problems. The term achieved prominence in 1970 when Hasan Özbekhan, Erich Jantsch and Alexander Christakis conceptualized the original prospectus of the Club of Rome titled "The Predicament of Mankind".[2] In this prospectus the authors designated 49 Continuous Critical Problems facing humankind, saying "We find it virtually impossible to view them as problems that exist in isolation - or as problems capable of being solved in their own terms... It is this generalized meta system of problems, which we call the 'problematique' that inheres in our situation.”

I've seen this used, with this spelling and meaning, any number of times in the ecology, environmental problems, sustainability, and global issues literature for many years. Without further research, I couldn't, at this time, point to any specific instance.


Problematic communicates that the idea or topic discussed either causes or has a history of causing a problem. The word problematic is actually in itself problematic. I propose that it should be changed to probmatic - as I have often heard it pronounced.

  • 3
    This does not answer the question, if the OP should use "problem" or "problematic" in the sample sentence.
    – Theresa
    Oct 9 '14 at 20:35

I myself use the word "problematic" in the sense of a theoretical concern or a subject needing discussion which is what i saw scholars doing in seminars and conferences. I think you are using the word correctly. Those who rush to dictionaries every now and then may not be always right. Words are fast acquiring new meanings in specialized academic fields and sometimes dictionaries are slow to catch up . ---Dr Sharad Rajimwale

  • Are you a native speaker of English? Can you provide other evidence that that this use of the word is common, such as corpus evidence? Because otherwise why should we trust what you say? Jul 17 '14 at 11:57

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