If you have a problem, are you facing a “dilemma” or a “dilemna”? Only one of these spellings is correct. To make sure your writing is error free, then, check out our guide to what this word means and how to spell it correctly.
What Does Dilemma Mean?
Traditionally, a “dilemma” is a difficult choice between two options:
He faced the dilemma of choosing between his job and his marriage.
The dilemma is whether to prioritize the environment or the economy.
Over time, though, this noun has come to mean “a difficult choice or problem” more generally. As such, it is often used in situations where there are more than two options available. For instance:
Doctors face an ethical dilemma when a patient refuses treatment.
Experimental research on animals poses a moral dilemma.
With all the options available, choosing a university can be a dilemma.
Typically, “dilemma” implies an unpleasant choice. This could be because both options have negative consequences. But it can also simply be that picking one thing involves ruling out other desirable outcomes.
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The Error: Dilemna
As in all the examples above, the correct spelling of this word is “dilemma.” However, many people misspell this word as “dilemna”:
Deciding whether or not to act can be a dilemna. ✗
Deciding whether or not to act can be a dilemma.✓
Journalists are often confronted with ethical dilemnas.✗
Journalists are often confronted with ethical dilemmas.✓
This may be because “mm” and “mn” look similar. But “dilemna” is always an error: in all cases, “dilemma” should be spelled with a double “m.”
Summary: Dilemma or Dilemna?
A “dilemma” is a difficult choice or problem, often involving two or more undesirable options. Some people make the mistake of spelling this word with an “mn” instead of a double “mm.” But “dilemna” is always an error!
To avoid this mistake, remember that the “di-” in this word originally meant “two.” Helpfully, this matches the two Ms in the middle of “dilemma”!