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Dec 14, 2017
Hugh Dellar

Intermediate word of the day: struggle

Today’s word is struggle. Struggle is all to do with difficulty, and with fighting or working hard to get what you want. Struggle is a verb: you can struggle with a problem (find a problem difficult or work hard to solve it). Struggle is also a noun – learning English can be a struggle sometimes! It can be difficult. It’s often quite hard work. So if you say ‘I’m struggling’ to a teacher, it means you’re finding things difficult and want help with an exercise. Kids sometimes struggle at school – they find it difficult and they fail exams. We might say a business is struggling, especially during a recession when it’s hard to make a profit.

Personally, I’m not a morning person. I don’t like getting out of bed. When the alarm goes off, I always hit the snooze button and when I do finally get up, I find it difficult to start doing things. I often say I struggled to get up this morning or it was a struggle to get going this morning. We often use the pattern struggle to do something. What might a teacher struggle to do and why? What other things might be a struggle for people and businesses in a recession? Pause for a moment and think about that.

Well, a teacher might struggle to control the class, because the students are naughty and talk all the time or because the teacher is inexperienced.

It might be a struggle to motivate the students because they’re not interested in learning or it’s not relevant to what they want to do.

I sometimes struggle to keep all the paperwork up to date because I spend too much time on other things.

In some countries, I’m very sad to say teachers struggle to make a living.

That’s also true for lots of people when there’s a recession. In Britain a lot of people are complaining about the cost of living. They struggle to make ends meet – in other words, they find it a struggle to pay for all their basic needs like housing, food, and electricity. They might struggle to keep up with their mortgage payments. Some people might struggle to find work. Businesses often find it a struggle to borrow money from the bank, or they might struggle to find new business.

Struggle is often used to talk about a fight – working hard to overcome an opponent or a problem in society. For example, in South Africa, Nelson Mandela led the struggle against apartheid. The black population had to struggle for freedom, they had to struggle for their right to vote. Most of this struggle was conducted peacefully. People outside the country supported the struggle by boycotting South African goods (they didn’t buy them) or by going on demonstrations. A few people engaged in an armed struggle. In other words, they fought with guns or planted bombs to get what they wanted and to further their cause.

In a similar way, over many years, women have had to struggle for equal rights. Some took non-violent action like chaining themselves to fences, disrupting public events, and demonstrating against unfair treatment. In Britain, women have gone on strike to fight for equal pay. Many have even died in the struggle because of their beliefs. Other struggles are sometimes described as movements: the civil rights movement, the gay liberation movement, the independence movement and so on.

Of course, whenever you struggle there are two ways it can finish. Some people struggle and give up. Others struggle to begin with and eventually succeed. Try to remember some of the language in this post. It might be a struggle, but don’t  give up!

Cover the text. What do you remember?

  • Say three different times when you might struggle.
  • Say three struggles teachers might have.
  • What might happen if you struggle to make ends meet?
  • Say three things that happened as part of the struggle for freedom in South Africa.
  • Say three things that happened as part of women’s struggle for sexual equality.
  • Say three movements and explain what they’re struggling for.

Related stories in the news

Six months after the terrible fire that left 71 people dead, life is still a real struggle for many survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire. Many people are still living in temporary accommodation and haven’t yet been rehoused. Only 42 of the 208 households affected have so far been moved to permanent new homes. The struggle for justice continues too, as no-one has yet been arrested and charged with any crimes in relation to the tragedy.

Elsewhere, Zimbabwe, now no longer controlled by Robert Mugabe, is facing an incredibly tough economic struggle. Huge amounts of money were stolen from the people by the former dictator, and many banks in the country are struggling to survive. On top of all that, there’s also an ongoing power struggle at the heart of government there, as leading politicians all try to get good positions.

Finally,  a cricket match in Delhi, India was stopped this week after players said they were struggling to breathe. The pollution in the city is now so bad that play had to be stopped after layers started to vomit on the side of the field!


  • What do you struggle to do? Why?
  • Do you know anyone who’s struggling at the moment? Why?
  • Can you think of anything that you managed to do even though it was a real struggle for you?
  • How strong are the movements mentioned above where you live?
  • Can you think of any other examples of people who have struggled for freedom or struggled for their rights? How did they do it?

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