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oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com > meaning №1 > Extra Examples:
to struggle — to try very hard to do something when it is difficult or when there are a lot of problems:
(1) He was really struggling in geometry.

Do I understand correctly that proceeding from the definition of "to struggle", we cannot say whether he was good at geometry or bad?

Are all of the following contexts possible?:
(2) He was really struggling in geometry because liked his geometry teacher and wanted to impress her with his great knowledge.
(3) He was really struggling in geometry and was the best student in it in his class.
(4) He was really struggling in geometry but still couldn't understand it.

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  • In this context "to struggle" means to have difficulties/problems, so that's generally not good. It can't really be used in a positive context.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 22:00

1 Answer 1

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In this context "struggle" is a euphemism, and means "not succeed" or "do badly". I say it's a euphemism because it's uncomfortable to say a child has low grades, so rather than that, we say they are "struggling", no matter how little effort they're making. It may also mean they try very hard, but it might mean not trying at all.

For myself in high school, my parents euphemistically described me to their friends as "struggling in math class" because my grades were terrible. The thing is, I was really good at math -- I just didn't do any homework or study for tests. I never actually struggled, in the dictionary sense.

So to your example sentence, that student was getting poor grades in geometry. We have no idea whether he was actually working hard or not so only (4) matches the meaning.

If you wanted to express that someone was actually working very hard to do something difficult, you could add "hard":

He was really struggling hard in geometry.

This unambiguously means he was working very hard, and found it difficult.

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