adjective, tough·er, tough·est.

  1. strong and durable; not easily broken or cut.
  2. not brittle or tender.
  3. difficult to masticate, as food: a tough steak.
  4. of viscous consistency, as liquid or semiliquid matter: tough molasses.
  5. capable of great endurance; sturdy; hardy: tough troops.
  6. not easily influenced, as a person; unyielding; stubborn: a tough man to work for.
  7. hardened; incorrigible: a tough criminal.
  8. difficult to perform, accomplish, or deal with; hard, trying, or troublesome: a tough problem.
  9. hard to bear or endure (often used ironically): tough luck.
  10. vigorous; severe; violent: a tough struggle.
  11. vicious; rough; rowdyish: a tough character; a tough neighborhood.
  12. practical, realistic, and lacking in sentimentality; tough-minded.
  13. Slang. remarkably excellent; first-rate; great.


  1. in a tough manner.


  1. a ruffian; rowdy.

  1. hang tough, Slang. hang(def 56).
  2. tough it out, Informal. to endure or resist hardship or adversity.


  1. strong or resilient; durablea tough material
  2. not tenderhe could not eat the tough steak
  3. having a great capacity for endurance; hardy and fita tough mountaineer
  4. rough or pugnaciousa tough gangster
  5. resolute or intractablea tough employer
  6. difficult or troublesome to do or deal witha tough problem
  7. informal unfortunate or unluckyit’s tough on him


  1. a rough, vicious, or pugnacious person


  1. informal violently, aggressively, or intractablyto treat someone tough
  2. hang tough informal to be or appear to be strong or determined


  1. (tr) slang to stand firm, hold out against (a difficulty or difficult situation) (esp in tough it out)

Old English toh “difficult to break or chew,” from Proto-Germanic *tankhuz (cf. Middle Low German tege, Middle Dutch taey, Dutch taai, Old High German zach, German zäh). See rough for spelling change.

Figurative sense of “strenuous, difficult, hard to beat” is first recorded c.1200; that of “hard to do, trying, laborious” is from 1610s. Verb tough it “endure the experience” is first recorded 1830, American English. Tough guy first recorded 1932. Tough-minded first recorded 1907 in William James. Tough luck first recorded 1912; tough shit is from 1946.


“street ruffian,” 1866, American English, from tough (adj.).

In addition to the idioms beginning with tough

  • tough break
  • tough it out
  • tough nut
  • tough row to hoe
  • tough sledding

also see:

  • get tough
  • gut (tough) it out
  • hang tough
  • hard (tough) act to follow
  • hard (tough) nut to crack

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