What's the Difference Between PROBLEM, ISSUE, and TROUBLE?

Written by
Tony Kaizen


Learn the difference between 3 very similar English words. Sometimes they are interchangeable and other times they are not. As always, it depends on the context!


Let’s start with the word ‘problem’

Definition: a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.

Problem is a general word, and it’s probably the word we use the most. ‘Problem’ can be used in all kinds of situations. We have big problems (my house is on fire) and small problems (the water brought me the wrong meal)

*If you want to take your vocabulary to the next level, try putting adjectives in front of the word problem in order to be more specific.

Financial problems

Relationship problems 

Health problems


Next, let’s look at the word ‘issue’

“Issue” actually has many meanings. 

Meaning 1

The most common way to use this word is as a formal and diplomatic alternative to the word “problem.” Especially in politics or the business world, the word “problem” sounds too negative. It focuses on the bad side of things and suggests someone made a mistake. To be more diplomatic, we use the word “issue.”

“Issue” suggests that we can solve things easily and no one gets angry. It sounds like we simply have a situation that needs to be dealt with. Don’t worry too much about which one you should use. In this context, the words “problem” and “issue” can be used interchangeably.

Meaning 2

Another meaning of “issue” is simply “topic” or “subject.” We typically use “issue” like this when we’re talking about news, politics, or anything that affects society as a whole.


She is concerned with a variety of political and economic issues.

Proper water purification is a public health issue.

Meaning 3

The final meaning of “issue” is completely different. It actually means “magazine or journal publication.”


Did you see the new issue of Sports Illustrated?

He’s going to be on the cover of the next XXL issue.


Meaning 4

Issue (verb)

Definition: to distribute officially

I’m waiting for them to issue my passport.


Finally, let’s look at the word ‘trouble’


  • difficulty or problems
  • a state or condition of distress, annoyance, or difficulty

This word is essentially the uncountable version of the word “problem.”

I can count problems, but I can’t count trouble.

I can have 9 problems or 900 problems.

I can’t have 9 troubles or 900 troubles.

I can have a few problems or a lot of problems.

I can have a little bit of trouble or a lot of trouble.

There are a couple of different ways we can use this word.

Meaning 1

A common use of this word is with the phrase “in trouble.” 

We typically use this word when we have problems with an authority. Maybe we’ve done something wrong or broken a rule, and now we are probably going to be punished for it.

  • You can be in trouble with the police, or more worryingly, the mafia.
  • A child can be in trouble with his parents.
  • A husband can be in trouble with his wife.

Meaning 2

We also use this word in the phrase “to have trouble with something” or “to have trouble -ing (doing something),” which simply means “to find something difficult.”

  • I’m having trouble conjugating verbs in the past tense.
  • They’re having a little trouble with this grammar exercise.
  • We’re having trouble understanding the lecture.


Meaning 3

Trouble is also a verb

Definition: to agitate mentally or spiritually : WORRY, DISTURB

  • What’s troubling you? → What’s worrying you?
  • There’s just one thing that troubles me… → There’s just one thing that concerns me.

Meaning 4

Definition: to inconvenience (sb)

  • Could I trouble you for a piece of gum?
  • He has been troubled by a knee injury all season.

Examples of context for each word

You got a problem?

You got an issue?

You got trouble?

What’s your problem?

What’s your issue?

What’s your trouble?

I’ve gotta take care of this problem right now.

I must resolve this issue immediately.

She’s having car problems again.

She’s having car issues again.

She’s having car trouble again.


Alright, my friend, now you know the difference between the words problem, issue, and trouble. Sometimes they can be used interchangeably, and sometimes they can’t. So just make an effort to pay more attention to the context in which you hear people using these words and you’ll naturally start to understand which word you should use in any situation. That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed the video. Thank you for your time and attention. I’ll talk to you soon. Peace!

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