Easier said than done! (Talking about things that are difficult)

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by Kate Woodford

I’m sure I’m not alone in sometimes wishing that things were easier. Work tasks, instructions, directions – so many things that we deal with on a daily basis can prove difficult. Read this post and the next time you find something hard, you’ll at least have an interesting set of vocabulary with which to complain!

Let’s start with some really common synonyms.  A task that is tricky is difficult, needing skill and care: Getting a cake out of a tin can be a bit tricky. In UK English, a fiddly task requires careful control of the hands, often because small parts are involved: It’s a fiddly task, fitting all the parts together. / I hate painting the fiddly bits in the corner.

Tough is another useful adjective. Something that is tough is difficult, needing a lot of mental or physical effort: It was a tough assignment to give to a new recruit. / We won but it was a really tough game.

Three useful adjectives ending in ‘ing’ exist in this area. Something that is demanding needs a lot of time, attention or energy: Teaching is very demanding. / a demanding job

The word taxing has a very similar meaning: I want a book to read on the beach – nothing too taxing.  A challenging task, meanwhile, is difficult in a way that tests your ability or determination. This word has a positive connotation, suggesting that we enjoy being tested: I’d been doing the same job for years and was looking for something a little more challenging.

Something that is awkward is difficult to move or operate, for example because of its size or position: I find his car quite awkward to drive. The formal word unwieldy is similar, describing an object that is difficult to move or handle because it is large or a strange shape: We asked for help in getting the more unwieldy items down the stairs, such as the sofa.

Moving on to phrases, we say the informal phrase in the title Easier said than done about something that seems like a good idea but would be difficult to do: “We could get the kids to help out on the day.” “Hmm, that’s easier said than done!” In UK English, if you can do something at a push, you can do it, but it will be difficult: I guess at a push, we could finish this part of the project by June.  

We say that a course of action is no soft option, meaning that it is difficult, even though other people may think it is not: A degree in sociology is certainly no soft option.

Whatever you’re doing this week, I hope it’s not too hard!

27 thoughts on “Easier said than done! (Talking about things that are difficult)

  1. Maryem Salama

    What I am doing this week is really a piece of cake, but I have to work hard until the beginning of the next year if I want to pass a very tricky and demanding exam. Thank you, my dear Kate

  2. F Hossain

    Excellent post to learn some exciting words and phrases! That said, it’s easier said than done as there is no soft option but to take this lesson regularly in order to use these words in the tricky areas of speaking and writing. Thank you so much.

    1. Kate Woodford

      A good question! They’re similar, though there are subtle differences in meaning which I’ll attempt to explain! Both mean that something or someone requires a lot from you, but whereas something ‘demanding’ generally requires a lot of time and energy, ‘exacting’ suggests that something requires skill and attention. So you might have a ‘demanding job’ but you would talk about ‘exacting standards’. I hope that helps!

  3. Briki

    I never met before the adjectives ‘fiddly and unwieldy that both refer to something not liked or not interesting when it happens..The expression ‘Easier to say that done’ has the same équivalent in French. The critics is easy but art is difficult ‘has a close meaning.

  4. Marina Lobo

    I’m so thankful and blessed to have you, I’ve learnt a lot with you. All the above tips have been so usuful for me. Thank you so much

  5. It is awesome to learn something on a blue Monday. Thank you very much, Kate.
    I wrote an article to use and to consolidate my memory for the words. Please correct me if any mistakes are found.

    Entering the academic field is no soft option. First of all, applying for funds is an unwieldy task. Fiddly experiments sometimes result in tricky results; hence repetition is unavoidable until consistent conclusions are reached. Writing a paper is another tough and challenging job.

    Having a manuscript ready, we need to find a publisher to publish it. Some people can publish a paper every year; however, it is easier said than done. We can come up with only a paper in two years even at a push.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! That’s great – a really nice use of ‘at a push’! Just one thing – the adjective ‘unwieldy’ sounds a little odd here. It has two senses. One sense describes an object that is difficult to move or handle because it is heavy, large, or a strange shape. The other sense describes a system that is slow and not effective, usually because it is too big or badly organized.

  6. Jana

    Thanks for the article! I’d like to know the difference between “can be difficult” and “can prove difficult”. Could you please tell me what it is? Thank you in advance ;))

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