Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Have you ever heard somebody say in English that they are in a Catch 22?

Is this one of those phrases that just doesn’t make sense to you that native English speakers use?

If you find yourself in this situation, then you want to know how to use this phrase or at least understand it.

This is one of those phrases that can help you to express a conflict or a problem, and so you want to know how to use it.

We’re going to look at how to use this and other similar phrases just like this.

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Here’s a letter that asks about this phrase and is likely how you have felt.

Hi Lindsay, Michelle, and Jessica!

I’m Natsuki from Japan. About a year has passed since one of my colleagues recommended “ALL EARS ENGLISH ” to me. I listen to this awesome podcast on my way to work as well as at home everyday. It helps me a lot with improving my listening skills and expanding my vocabulary. I appreciate it very much!

One of my colleagues recommended “ALL EARS ENGLISH ” to me. I listen to this awesome podcast on my way to work as well as at home everyday. It helps me a lot with improving my listening skills and expanding my vocabulary. I appreciate it very much!

By the way, I have a question about the phrase “Catch-22”. When I talked about my worries at the workplace with my American friend, she said, “It’s kind of a Catch-22, isn’t it?”. According to the dictionary, “Catch-22” means dilemma or contradictory situation. Do you often use this phrase?

I would like to know about other expressions for a contradictory situation. I deeply appreciate your help.

Looking At The Definition First

It’s a great strategy that the listener looked up the definition in the dictionary.

This is a phrase that may come up in conversation a fair amount, and so it helps to know what it means.

This is one of those phrases that can be a bit difficult to understand, so looking at the definition can really help a lot.

So here is the definition from the dictionary : a situation in which there are only two possibilities, and you cannot do either because each depends on having done the other first.

The definition from Google is: a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

The idea here is that there is a conflict and therefore a difficulty in making a decision.

Looking At Examples

You may find it helpful to look at examples of this sort of thing in real life.

This can help you to really visualize when you are in a Catch 22 because we’ve all been there at times.

This is the type of thing where either outcome can present issues or problems.

If you choose one thing, then there is a downside to the other part.

For example, if you are building a new business you often don’t have enough resources at the beginning stages.

You don’t have a lot of money and so you are limited with the resources that you have available to you.

The problem or the Catch 22 in this is that you need to go big to make your business a true success.

You have to do your research and figure out how to best utilize the resources that you do have, and to gain new ones as soon as possible.

This Catch 22 can put you in a position where you just aren’t sure of how to proceed.

You may need more staff to make your business work, but you don’t have the money yet.

This Catch 22 happens all the time, and therefore you are bound to find many other examples of this in your life.

Similar and Related Phrases

How else can you say something similar?

You may find yourself in this situation and you want to know how to talk about it.

Catch-22 may be a bit tricky but we want to tell you other ways to express being in a situation that is difficult to get out of.

  • In a pickle: It may sound silly but it can also help you to express being in a hard situation. “I’m in a pickle. My parents want me to go to NYU but they don’t know that I’ve already told UCLA I accepted their invitation.”
  • Stuck between a rock and a hard place: It is to say that both situations are awful. No matter which way you go you are going to be stuck and not in a place that is desirable. “I can’t say I won’t go to the party but I also can’t tell my boss I’m not going to work that evening. Ugh. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
  • In a tight spot: You are truly conflicted and therefore are in a negative position. You don’t want to be here, and so you want to find your way out of it. “I’m in a tight spot. I don’t really like him but I already told him I’d be his date to the wedding. I feel so bad about this!”

All of these phrases can work just like Catch 22 in conversation.

When you find yourself in this tough situation, now you know how to deal with it.


Life is certainly not always easy, and sometimes you run into dilemmas and tricky situations.

It’s good to express this in English in your conversations because it shows vulnerability and helps you to connect with others.

You may not always know how to navigate through these situations, but you will learn in time.

At the very least knowing how to talk about these tricky situations can really come in handy and help you.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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