Issue, Trouble and Problem

Problem Issue and Trouble

Finally, a common point of confusion.

The main differences

  1. “Problem” is the general word.
  2. “Issue” is more diplomatic and less negative.
  3. “Trouble” is uncountable.


The details


“Problem” is the most common of the three. We use it in all kinds of situations. We can have big problems (our house is falling down) or small problems (my cat is sitting on my laptop again).

In other words, you can use “problem” in any negative situation.


“Issue” actually has three meanings. The most common meaning is the diplomatic alternative to “problem.”

Especially in politics or the business world, the word “problem” is sometimes too negative. It focuses on the bad side of things and suggests someone made a mistake. To be more diplomatic, we use the word “issue.”

“Issue” suggests that we can solve things easily and no one gets angry.

Another meaning of “issue” is simply “topic” or “subject.” We usually use “issue” like this when we’re talking about news or politics:

It seems crazy now, but giving women the right to vote was a great issue of the day.

The issue of the day.

The final meaning of “issue” is completely different. It actually means “magazine or journal publication.”

We can use “issue” in two ways here.

To show the number of the issue:

Issue 27

The 27th issue of a magazine

Or to show the theme of the issue:

New Year’s issue

The big giraffe issue

This magazine cover shows both uses at once:

an issue of a magazine


Finally, “trouble” is used as the uncountable sister to “problem.” There are a couple of different ways we can use it.

A common use of this word is with the phrase “in trouble.” This suggests a power dynamic: the less powerful is always in trouble with the more powerful.

  • You can be in trouble with the police, or more worryingly, the mafia.
  • A child can be in trouble with her parents.
  • A husband can be in trouble with his wife.


We also use this word in the phrase “to have trouble with something” or “to have trouble -ing,” which simply means “to find something difficult.”

At the beginning, he had trouble performing in public, but now he does it all the time.

an obnoxious trumpeter

What words do you find confusing in English? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them in a future post.

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24 thoughts on “Issue, Trouble and Problem

  1. Great! Thank you for this clear and detailed explanation. I really enjoyed reading and grasping the subtle nuances of these terms.

    1. It’s the noun form of “disperse.”

      You can use it when something distributes itself, or spreads, over a relatively large area.

      So you can talk about a dispersal of food as humanitarian aid.

      Or a the dispersal of fumes around a city.

    1. Hi Dana.

      In short, the difference between “affect” and “effect” is that one’s a verb and one’s a noun.

      So you can say, “The weather is probably going to affect the performance.”

      And you can also say, “The storm had a huge effect on the performance.”

      Hope that helps! :)

  2. Thanks a lot, Gabriel
    That’s exactly what I was looking for. Your explanation has been good enough to understand the difference clearly.

    I’d like you to help with the difference between remember and recall, and how we can use them.

    Thanks again.

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