There are a couple of words one can use to refer to someone with a hearing problem, such as "deaf", "hearing-impaired" or "hard of hearing".

I was wondering if we could use the word "problematic" to refer to their disability as in

he can't hear you well, his ears are problematic.

Is it natural to a native speaker to say something like that?

I looked up the word "problematic" in several dictionaries but I couldn't make up my mind:

problematic: causing difficulty, or hard to deal with (Cambridge)

The word seems to be synonymous with "hard", "difficult" and "arduous".

problematic: posing a problem : difficult to solve or decide (Webster)

  • 1
    My food is problematic
    – James K
    Mar 16, 2020 at 21:15
  • is it common to refer to things as problematic though? @Michael Harvey mentioned in his answer that a thing "can't be" problematic, rather a situation or contemplated action can be referred to as being problematic.
    – Fermichem
    Mar 16, 2020 at 21:28
  • I should have given more context about the link. The girl is using language strangely. Its not common to refer to things as "problematic". The joke is multi-layered: She uses strange formal language, she has difficulty eating the "ice planet", everybody else thinks the ice planets are quite normal, but they are so weird looking to us. I think it's a clever piece of comedy writing.
    – James K
    Mar 16, 2020 at 21:46
  • I did think it was funny :)
    – Fermichem
    Mar 16, 2020 at 21:51
  • 4
    Be aware that "problematic" has become popular as a term for political/social innuendo, so the word problematic is itself problematic; I suggest using alternative phrasing. Mar 17, 2020 at 8:09

4 Answers 4


Problematic is usually used to indicate that something causes problems. It is not his ears that are problematic, but his loss of hearing.

The loss of hearing in the elderly becomes problematic because they cannot hear and evaluate what is said to them. It also cuts them off socially.

  • 4
    so his ears can't be problematic but the fact that he can't hear is problematic, right?
    – Fermichem
    Mar 16, 2020 at 20:57
  • @Fermichem: yes, exactly.
    – TonyK
    Mar 17, 2020 at 20:01

We use 'problematic' about a situation or contemplated action that presents, or might present, problems. Not a thing like an ear. You could say 'hearing for him is problematic', or 'he has a problem hearing'.

  • So a physical thing cannot be problematic, but a situation or a set of actions can be problematic, right? what do you think about @L J Kellogg 's answer, "the loss of hearing in the elderly becomes problematic" does this sound natural to you?
    – Fermichem
    Mar 16, 2020 at 20:57

In contrast to "cases problems", "problematic" has a negativ connatation.

  • "This child causes problems" - let's get it sorted.
  • "That's a problematic child" - he is a bad person.

I would be careful to call a person, or his ears, problematic.

  • 1
    I don't see the second one as any more negative than the first... Calling a child "problematic" doesn't imply that they will never become a decent person to me; it only tells me that they cause problems. I think that's an exceptionally strange way to interpret "problematic".
    – JMac
    Mar 17, 2020 at 15:05
  • @JMac: Thanks! I changed the wording to more precisely express my intention. Mar 17, 2020 at 17:54
  • ... I don't find that any better. I still think this is far from the intention behind calling a child "problematic". It's no more a judge of character than saying "that child causes problems". I don't see where you're getting the implication that "problematic" means "bad person".
    – JMac
    Mar 17, 2020 at 18:43
  • @JMac, well, I'll leave it as it is. This is about percieved implications of wording, and as such, it is natural that there are disagreements. Frankly I find the assignment of the attribute "problematic" quite offending, especially because it is an often-used euphemism. Mar 17, 2020 at 19:53
  • 1
    I'm afraid that this answer is totally wrong. "Problematic" is no more negative than "causes problems". Calling somebody's ears problematic is not an insult! (Bocs, de úgy mondom, ahogy látom.)
    – TonyK
    Mar 17, 2020 at 20:06

A circumstance is problematic when it is an obstacle to a goal and it is unclear how the obstacle is to be dealt with, as no clear solution is presenting itself. That which is problematic presents a "gnarly" problem, aka a "challenge".

So the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service could say of a job applicant for an Intelligence Analyst position, "His ears are problematic", if the applicant is the deaf nephew of the Prime Minister, and the duties of an analyst normally include listening in on wiretapped conversations. The situation the Head finds themselves in is "problematic" and "his ears" are an emblem for the entire situation. It would be a quip, and metonymic.

Among the synonyms Merriam-Webster offers for problematic we find:


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