Problem vs. trouble

“Problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.”

Robert H. Schuller, an American Christian televangelist and motivational speaker

Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you.

An English proverb

Problems are a part of our life no matter how we might feel about this hard fact. Therefore, we often have to speak about them and our today’s choice of topic is dictated by this necessity. First of all, let’s understand what exactly problem is.


According to the Cambridge Dictionary, problem is situationperson or thing that needs attention and needs to be dealt with or solved:

The main problem of this region is unemployment. (- we need to deal with the situation)

I don’t want to be a problem. (= I don’t want to be a person who needs much attention and is difficult to deal with)

I have to solve some minor health problems. (- this thing needs my attention and I have to deal with it)


Trouble means certain difficulties:

The tax form was complicated and I had a lot of trouble with it. (- it was difficult to fill in the form)

She got through her exams without too much trouble. (- it wasn’t difficult for her to do it)

Trouble can also mean a problem or problems and in this meaning the words “problem” and “trouble” are synonymous:

Their problems seem to be over for the moment but there could be more troubles ahead. (= there could be more problems ahead; use the synonym to avoid tautology [tɔː‘tɔləʤɪ] – the unnecessary use of 2 words to express one meaning)

The trouble started when my grandfather came to live with us. (= the problem started at that time)

As “trouble” has a special meaning of problems in the form of argumentsfighting or violence we can assume that “the trouble which started” was some misunderstanding and argument. However, we can’t know for sure.

There is something which “trouble” can imply but “problem” can’t. Namely, trouble can mean a situation in which you experience problems because of something you have done wrong or badly:

He’s in trouble with his teachers because he has been rude to most of them. (- his rudeness has lead to this problem, this is his mistake, the cause of the problem)

You’ll be in big trouble if you take my car. (- if you do this, your action will cause problems)

And last but not least, “trouble” can mean inconvenience”, that is “slight problems” or “effort”:

I don’t mean to cause you any trouble. (= I don’t mean to cause you any inconvenience, i.e. slight problems)

“I’d love some more orange juice if it’s not too much trouble.” – “It’s no trouble at all.” (- it’s not inconvenient, i.e. I don’t have to make much effort )



Let’s make the comparison with the table:

1.       A situation/person/thing to deal with:

Our main problem is lack of money.

1.       A situation/person/thing to deal with:

Your trouble is that you can’t take rejection.

2.       Problems in the form or arguments, fighting or violence:

I don’t want any trouble in here, so please just finish your drink and leave.

3.       Difficulty/difficulties:

Most of our current troubles are caused by our new computer system.

4.       A situation in which you experience problems because you have done something wrong/badly:

The marriage ran into trouble because of her husband’s heavy drinking.

5.       Inconvenience (i.e. slight problems/effort):

If you took the trouble to listen to what I was saying, you would know what I was talking about (=if you made effort to listen…).


Problem” is a countable noun, so you can say “I have a problem parking” or “I have problems parking”.

Trouble” can be both countable and uncountable.

When you mean “problems” or “difficulties” by the word “trouble”, “trouble” is countable:

Her birthday is the least of my troubles at the moment.


Her birthday is my least trouble at the moment.

In all the other meanings, “trouble” is uncountable:

My brother is always trying to create trouble between me and our mother. (see meaning 2 in the table above)

He’s stayed out of trouble since he was released from jail last year. (see meaning 4 in the table above)

It’s annoying but I won’t go to the trouble of making an official complaint. (see meaning 5 in the table above)


And now let’s listen to 2 popular songs about some kind of trouble or problem and see how the words work:

Toylor Swift – I Knew You Were Trouble

See the lyrics here.

Useful vocabulary from the song:

  • To be in one’s sights – to be the focus of one’s attention and desire for possession or achievement
  • To put sb. down – to put somebody onto a surface, especially the floor
  • A notch on/in one’s belt – a remarkable success or achievement, especially one in a successive string or list of other such ones
  • To creep in – to enter some thing/place slowly

Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea – Problem

See the lyrics here.

Useful vocabulary from the song:

  • To have one’s head in the clouds – to be unaware of what is going on because of fantasies/dreams
  • To have no weight on one’s shoulders – to have no cares
  • Smart money – money belonging to smart or clever people
  • To be around sb. – to be near someone