Tribulations Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

You’ve heard of trials and tribulations, but what is the meaning of tribulations? Read on for a complete guide to the word tribulations.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

We’ve all been through difficult times in our lives. Maybe, during a particularly rough patch, you’ve used the phrase “trials and tribulations” to describe your situation. It’s a fairly common phrase, especially in religious circles.

But what does the word tribulations actually mean? Most of us understand that common phrase, but what does the word tribulations mean on its own? 

Those are the questions this article will answer. After reading this complete guide to tribulations, its definitions, and how the word is used, you’ll have a full understanding of tribulations so you can use it confidently in your writing and speech. 

Let’s get started! 

What’s the Definition of Tribulations? 

If you’ve heard the popular phrase “trials and tribulations” before, you probably have a decent understanding of what the word tribulation (trib yew ‘lay shən) means. It’s a kind of suffering or hard time. 

Here’s an official definition of the tribulation:

  • An event that causes great suffering or a hard time, particularly as a result of oppression or abuse

So, if somebody is going through great tribulation, they are probably going through a great deal of suffering, and that suffering might be at the hands of another person. 

Again, the most common use for the word comes in the phrase “trials and tribulations.” This phrase is used in high volumes in religious circles, specifically in Christianity. Today, when the word is used in this context, it could be referring to a struggle due to oppression. It is more often used to refer to hard times in a general sense. 

Where Did the Word Tribulations Come From?  

To help bring further clarity to the meaning of tribulations, it would be helpful to look at the etymology of the word. 

The English form of this word takes its official roots in Latin, specifically ecclesiastical Latin in the ancient Christian church. The ecclesiastical word in question is the Latin trībulātiō or tribulatio, which shares its definition with the English word. 

An Ancient Tool

This word came from particular Latin roots that date even further back. It starts with the Latin terere, which means “to rub.” Terere was the root word for the Latin word tribulum which meant “threshing board.” 

This tribulum threshing sledge was an invention in the ancient world that could quickly separate the grain from its plant. It consisted of a large board with several sharp points sticking out of it. The wheat would be placed on the floor and the board would be dragged over it, forcefully removing the grain from the chaff. 

Eventually, this Latin word evolved once again, creating the late Latin past participle of trībulāre or tribulare, which means “oppressed.” It was from the Latin tribulare that the ecclesiastical word tribulatio was formed. The word spread across Europe taking its next form in the Old French tribulacion, from which it moved into the Middle English language in the form we know today.

The imagery of the threshing board, in particular, points to the type of oppression and suffering that the word tribulations refers to. 

What Are Some Example Sentences Using Tribulations?

Now, let’s take a look at some examples of tribulation in a sentence: 

I’ve been going through a lot of trials and tribulations, but I know God will bring me through to the other side!

Today, we’re going to talk about the great tribulation in the book of Revelation. 

I lost my job, I was injured in a car accident, and I’m in debt. I’m just going through so many tribulations. 

For years, we went through tribulation after tribulation, but ever since I got this new job, our lives have completely turned around for the better. 

What Are Some Synonyms for Tribulations?  

Here are some synonyms for the word tribulation that you might find in a thesaurus or English dictionary.

  • Adversity
  • Heartache
  • Misfortune
  • Misery
  • Woes
  • Oppression 
  • Burden
  • Difficulty
  • Trouble
  • Burden
  • Affliction

What Are Some Antonyms for Tribulations?

Here are some antonyms for tribulations

  • Delight
  • Joy
  • Good fortune
  • Comfort
  • Peace
  • Pleasure 

Where Did Trials and Tribulations Come From?

To understand why such a seemingly strange word has become such a commonly used one, we need to take a look at religious culture and the Bible. 

The word tribulation appears throughout the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. The KJV Bible was written in 1611. It was one of the first translations of the Bible into the English tongue. 

At the time, there were two prominent translations: The Bishops’ Bible (which was difficult to understand, elitist, and awkward to read) and the Geneva Bible (which included notes that King James did not like). 

So, King James commissioned a new Bible translation to be made. To make it, 47 different scholars and theologians worked tirelessly for 7 years to make this poetic, beautiful translation of the Bible, and it quickly became the dominant English translation. 

A Book Influencing Langauge

With all of its poetic language, the KJV uses the word tribulations quite a bit. It appears all throughout the New and Old Testaments. In particular, the Great Tribulation is believed by Christians to be a seven-year period of great suffering before the End Times. 

With the increasing popularity of the word tribulations due to the KJV in the 19th century, the idiom finally came about: trials and tribulations. It is a bit of a redundant phrase, with both words meaning the same thing. Basically, the word lists off different words for suffering that begin with the letter T.

The idiom owes its popularity to American heritage. The word in its current usage tends to imply that the particular suffering in question is a test of endurance, probably in reference to I Thessalonians 3 and other verses in the Bible. 

The phrase became quite popular during the 19th century and into the 20th century. It has since become slightly less popular, but the phrase is still quite common today.


Tribulations is an important word that is still commonly used today, and now you have all of the knowledge you need to confidently understand it and utilize it in your writing and your conversation. If you ever need a refresher on this word and its meaning, just come back to this article for the information you need.


  1. Tribulation Definition & Meaning | 
  2. Tribulāciǒun | Middle English Dictionary | University of Michigan 
  3. Tribulation | Cambridge English Dictionary