Suppose you are talking to one of the government officials. You ask them: "why the project X is not done yet?" He wants to explain and bring some excuses. He tends to tell you that there have been some issues that you are not aware of them; which one of the following sentences sounds more natural to you:

  • unfortunately, there have been lots of limitations in this respect.
  • unfortunately, there have been lots of restrictions in this respect.
  • unfortunately, there have been lots of constraints in this respect.

Here you can see why dictionary definitions are not clear and most of the times helpful: Limitation, Restriction, Constraint

Meanwhile, please let me know a bit more about these words. How they differ in meaning and how shall I know when one can use each one?

The only thing that I know, is that "limitation" talks about general inability whereas "restriction" tends to talk more about something forced by regulations or government or etc. But I have no idea about "constraint".

  • 1
    issues sounds better than any of your three suggestions. The in this respect may refer to some particular kind of problem, and each of your suggestions may work well for a particular kind of problem. For example: Government regulation specify that the work must not be carried out night, therefore our working hours are limted. Or, the water sources we use are subject to restrictions, we may not take more than X gallons per day. – djna Aug 24 '16 at 15:02

You are correct in thinking a "limitation" is an inability for something/someone

His job choices are limited by not being able to read.

and a "restriction" is externally imposed to stop something, usually by law

The area is restricted to authorised personnel only.
There is a speed restriction for how fast you may drive in a residential area.

Both "limitations" and "restrictions" are "constraints" which can be the more encompassing term to describe something that stops a person or process from happening. "Limitations" and "constraints" usually have the feeling of holding back, where as "constraints" has the feeling of holding within.

Imagine an example of a grazing field fenced in by barbed wire with mountains on the west:

The cattle grazing is limited by the mountain range to the west.
The cattle grazing is restricted to the 1,000 acres of grazing field.
The cattle grazing is constrained to the area within the barbed wire fence.

(source: fineartamerica.com)

  • Great distinction Peter. Thank you very much. It was really helpful. – A-friend Aug 25 '16 at 5:45

In the Incident Command System we talk about both Limitations and Constraints, both may hinder our efforts if not properly identified and managed.

Hence, a Limitation is something over which the organization has no control, i.e.- weather, whereas,

A Constraint is a self imposed control by the organization, i.e.- for safety reasons we will not work during dark/nighttime hours.

Years late, but wanted to add to the record.

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