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Intermediate level

'Tough', 'rough' or 'stiff'?

Episode 200114 / 14 Jan 2020

This week's question

How do we use 'tough', 'rough' and 'stiff'? - Eugele

Answer this

How do rough, tough and stiff all mean the same thing?

Language points

Tough - durable
Tough is an adjective. Its noun is toughness. It means 'durable' or 'difficult to damage.

  • Don't worry about dropping the cup. It's very tough.

Tough - difficult
can mean 'difficult' or 'challenging'. We can talk about things like: tough questions, tough circumstances or a tough read (a book that is complicated to understand, for example)

  • I remember my maths exam being very tough.

Tough - food
Tough can also refer to food. Tough food is difficult to eat or chew - like an overcooked steak.

  • Waiter! This steak is too tough. Please bring me another.

Rough - not smooth
is an adjective. Its noun is roughness. It means 'not smooth'. We often talk about: rough cloth, rough skin or a rough surface.

  • Have you ever been licked by a cat? Their tongues are very rough!

Rough - not exact
Rough can mean 'not exact' or 'not detailed'. This is usually in relation to the quality of an explanation or idea. We might talk about a rough copy of something, a rough drawing or a rough estimate.

  • I'll be there in 20 minutes, but it's just a rough estimate.

Rough - difficult
Rough can mean 'difficult' or 'challenging'. We can talk about: rough circumstances, or having a rough time.

  • John's having a rought time at the moment. He just lost his job.

Stiff - not flexible
is an adjective. Its noun is 'stiffness'. It means 'not flexible' or 'not easily moved'. We can talk about: stiff card, a stiff collar (on a shirt) or stiff jeans. Our muscles can also be stiff. These are muscles that are sore or do not want to move smoothly or easily.

  • Have you ever noticed how stiff our jeans are when we take them out of the wash?
  • I slept badly last night and now I have a stiff neck!

Stiff - difficult
can mean 'difficult' or 'severe'. We can talk about: stiff punishment or stiff competition

  • There was a lof of stiff competition at the job interview.

The answer

They can all mean 'challenging' or 'difficult', though we use them in slightly different ways!

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