Sentence that needs correction : "A dilemma is when a person is faced with two or more choices, each of which leads to undesirable consequences.

Why is the use of when wrong? Why should when be ommitted?

  • A dilemma is not an event, so how can when be used?
    – user8959
    Aug 7, 2014 at 18:33
  • You are right, I would accept this usage in casual speech, but it is obvious that this question comes from SAT practice.
    – Phil
    Aug 7, 2014 at 18:33
  • 1
    "A dilemma is a situation in which ..." Aug 7, 2014 at 18:38
  • 1
    "I've always said [that power is when people think you have power]" -- Tip O'Neill with William Novak, Man of the House, 1987 (from MWCDEU page 777)
    – F.E.
    Aug 7, 2014 at 18:53
  • 2
    There's nothing wrong with it, but when you take tests you're required to do some mind reading: can you guess what the test writer thinks is wrong? Unfortunately, this is a useful skill.
    – user230
    Aug 7, 2014 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


Although this sentence is perfectly fine in casual speech it is not quite as correct as possible. "When" specifies a point in time, while a dilemma refers to a situation.

A situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/dilemma

The correct answer would be: "A dilemma is a situation in which a person is faced with two or more choices [...]"

The question obviously was produced from this definition.


As some comments have said, that sentence is fine in casual speech.

In formal speech, the problem is with "is when" not just "when." The word "is" expects to be followed by a noun or an adjective, like "A dilemma is a kind of problem." On the other hand, "when," expects to say when something happens, like "The ground is wet when it is raining."

Replacing "is" with "occurs" would be fine: "A dilemma occurs when a person is faced..."

You should not simply omit "when" in this case, because "a dilemma is a person..." immediately causes a problem: A dilemma is not a kind of person.

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