Finally, a common point of confusion.
The main differences
- “Problem” is the general word.
- “Issue” is more diplomatic and less negative.
- “Trouble” is uncountable.
“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 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:
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:
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.
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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