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We all know what the problem is. It is a more or less difficult situation that is causing us inconvenience and stopping us from doing what we want. Here are different ways for talking about problems in English, including collocations, idioms, phrasal verbs, synonyms, and conversation questions to help you remember the new vocabulary. 

Face/encounter/confront a problem

If you face or encounter or confront a problem, then you are aware of it and you are trying to deal with it.

For example:

  • Today, we are facing global warming issues that must be dealt with as soon as possible.
  • When they tried to deal with the problem of discipline in their school, they encountered the problem of drugs abuse.
  • The Johnsons have been confronted with many problems since they moved to another country.
Address/tackle the problem

If you address or tackle a problem, you are trying to solve it.

For example:

  • The member of the parliament addressed the problem of human rights in the last night’s TV programme.
  • The United Nations and governments of countries all around the world are trying to tackle environmental problems.
Deal with a problem

If you are dealing with a problem, you are taking concrete actions in order to solve it.

For example:

  • Right now, our company is dealing with a problem of safety at work.
  • The police have a strategy for dealing with the problem of street riots.
Discuss/debate a problem

To discuss or debate a problem means to exchange your opinions and ideas with another person or a group of people.

For example:

  • The residents of the building discussed littering in the neighbourhood.
  • One of the most debated problems nowadays is protection against the Coronavirus.
Overcome a problem

If you overcome a problem, you succeed in dealing with it.

For example:

  • He’ll get seriously ill unless he overcomes his problem of overeating.
  • A way to overcome problems associated with online bullying is to avoid contact with strangers.
The root of the problem

This expression refers to the basic cause of a problem.

For example:

  • I believe that the root of the problem lies in his shyness.
  • The government is supposed to fight against the root of the problem, not the consequences.
Problem-solving

A  compound noun related to the process of finding a solution to a problem.

For example:

  • This course trains people in problem-solving in different situations.
  • For this position, they expect their new employee to possess good problem-solving skills.
Talking about Problems in English
Talking about Problems in English

Other ways to talk about a problem

Hitch 

a small difficulty.

  • The job in the advert looked perfect except for the hitch of a low salary. 
Snag

a similar word to hitch. It refers to a small problem or disadvantage.

  • The only snag to marriage is that you lose your freedom.
Difficulty

another way to say problem.

  • Maria works with children with learning difficulties.
Issue

a problem that people are discussing.

  • The scientists met to discuss environmental issues.
Setback

an obstacle that stops something from developing.

  • Dorothy has been recovering from her illness successfully except for some small setbacks. 
Complication

when the situation becomes more difficult than it was.

  • The risk of complications occurring due to side effects is reduced.
Obstacle

when something stands in the way of achieving something.

  • There are so many administrative obstacles that prevent workers from doing their job effectively.
Trouble

a problematic or distressful situation.

  • They had a lot of trouble with that Ikea cupboard. The parts just didn’t fit in.
Challenge

a difficult task that may be interesting because it tests your skills and abilities.

  • The Olympic basketball team is ready to face the challenges of the competition.
Talking about Problems in English
Talking about Problems in English
Deal with

to take necessary action in order to solve a problem.

For example:

  • We must deal with this problem now before it becomes bigger.
  • You have to learn how to deal with all kinds of problems if you want to progress in life.
Run into

to experience a problem unexpectedly.

For example:

  • The company ran into some serious financial problems and bankrupted in a year.
  • if you run into difficulties while operating this machine, call the mechanic immediately.
Run up against

when you have to deal with an unexpected problem.

For example:

  • After they launched the new product, they run up against some unexpected problems.
  • When Lorna tried to talk to her husband about the problem she ran up against silence.
Knuckle down

to begin to work on something in order to solve a problem.

For example:

  • The police knuckled down to the task of investigating the details of the robbery.
  • If we knuckle down really hard, we’ll have this presentation ready by the end of next week.
Wrestle with ( a problem)

to try hard to deal with a problem or reach a difficult decision.

For example:

  • Sam had a hard time wrestling with the problems in her marriage –  should she divorce or not?
  • Sara spent most of the afternoon wrestling with her Math homework.
Talk something over

to discuss a problem with someone before making a final decision.

For example:

  • First I need to talk it over with my husband and if we decide to buy a house, we’ll contact you.
  • If you have digestion problems, you should talk it over with your doctor.
Talking about Problems in English
Talking about Problems in English

Idioms about problems

Be in dire straits

a very difficult financial situation.

For example:

  • They met after the war when the country was in serious financial dire straits.
  • The company is facing dire straits so they’re going to borrow some money from a bank.
Vicious circle

when one problem causes another, which creates even more difficulties.

For example:

  • People on reduction diets often fall into a vicious circle of losing and then gaining weight again.
  • I wish the vicious circle of poverty and stagnation ends in the world.
Put your foot in it

to say something accidentally so that it causes embarrassment and distress.

  • I don’t like her at all. Oh sorry, did I put my foot in it? She’s your friend, isn’t she?
  • Paul was quick to end the conversation before he put his foot in it even more.
Come up against a (brick) wall

to get to a point when you can not go on because something is preventing you from progressing.

  • Many students come up against a brick wall when they apply for scholarships.
  • Fiona was working long hours all last week. She’d stopped only when she felt that she came up against a brick wall and couldn’t think clearly.
Fall into place

when things happen without much difficulty.

For example:

  • Once I organized my work well, everything fell into place so I had plenty of time for my leisure activities.
  • After an extremely complicated plot, everything fell into place at the end of the film.
The light at the end of the tunnel

a ray of hope after a period of worry and difficulties.

  • When the vaccine against the Coronavirus was invented, humankind could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • We managed to solve some really serious problems within the company and now we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Talking about Problems in English
Talking about Problems in English

Conversation questions for talking about problems in English

The best way to remember new vocabulary is to use it immediately. Therefore, try to discuss these questions with your English speaking partner:

  1. What is the greatest challenge/problem you have faced at school or work so far? How did you overcome it?
  2. Have you ever come up against a brick wall? When and what happened?
  3. Do you deal with your problems by yourself or do you discuss them with someone? Who?
  4. Have you ever got embarrassed by putting your foot in it?
  5. Who do you usually discuss your problems with? Asking for advice?
  6. Have you ever helped anyone solve their problem? Did they take your advice?
  7. Do you think the problem of global warming will be solved in this century?
  8. Do you think the problem of discrimination will stop existing in this century? Why/Why not?
  9. Do you think the problem of poverty and financial difficulties will be solved in this century? Why? Why not?
  10. How can social issues affect society?

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