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Dominic Cole’s IELTS Blog

IELTS Vocabulary - Problems

In IELTS essays you are almost always going to need to write about a problem. To do this
well, you need to be able to use a variety of words to describe problems. Here are a few
basic variations.

You should note that you will need not just synonyms for “problem” but also variations of
adjectives and verbs.

For more detail on this and an interactive exercise see my Problem Vocabulary page

If you do not understand any of these words, I suggest you use the Macmillan Online

Synonyms and antonyms

Nouns Usage


difficulty a fairly close synonym to “problem”:

question this is slightly different to problem: it is something people have

different opinions about

issue this is something people argue about/ similar to “question”

solution you normally “find” or “come up with” a solution


One key here is to avoid words such as “big” and “little” and to choose accurate word
combinations. Here are some adjective-noun combinations

Adjectives Examples

significant A significant problem many countries face is falling birth rates

fundamental This is not a minor issue, rather it is a fundamental problem

real A very real difficulty in many households is rising fuel bills

minor In my view, global warming is only a minor problem

pressing This is a pressing problem that needs to be dealt with urgently

Dominic Cole’s IELTS Blog

Adjectives Examples

serious Of course, global warming is a serious issue that needs to be


complex This is a complex issue and there are no easy solutions to it.


Verbs Examples Usage

address The government needs to similar to “deal with” and “tackle”

address the problem of

face How to combine work with an alternative here would be the more
having children is a problem academic “confronting”
facing many women

deal with We need to deal with the a close synonym of “tackle”: it

pressing issue of global includes the idea that the problem is
warming difficult

tackle It will not be easy to tackle a close synonym of “deal with”

global warming

experience Many families are experiencing a more academic way of saying

difficulties in paying their rising “have”
fuel bills

pose Rising fuel bills pose a problem a good collocation to use with
for many families problem meaning “make”

resolve The best way of resolving the you can “solve” a problem or you can
problem of global warming “resolve” a problem
would be to raise taxes