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Adversity vs. Setback — What's the Difference?

By Tayyaba Rehman & Maham Liaqat — Updated on May 16, 2024
Adversity refers to prolonged or significant difficulties, often encompassing multiple challenges, while a setback is a specific, temporary obstacle that hinders progress but is usually more manageable.
Adversity vs. Setback — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Adversity and Setback


Key Differences

Adversity encompasses ongoing or significant challenges and hardships that a person or group faces over a longer period. It often includes a combination of difficult circumstances, such as financial struggles, health issues, or major life events. A setback, in contrast, is a specific event or obstacle that temporarily disrupts progress. Setbacks are usually short-term issues that, while frustrating, can be addressed and overcome with adjustments or additional effort.
While adversity represents a broader, more intense experience of hardship, a setback is a singular incident that interrupts forward momentum. Adversity might involve dealing with multiple setbacks within a prolonged struggle, whereas a setback is typically a single challenge that can be overcome more quickly.
Adversity often has a deeper impact on an individual’s life, potentially altering their course significantly, whereas setbacks are usually seen as temporary detours that can be managed with resilience and strategic planning.

Comparison Chart


Prolonged or significant difficulties
Specific, temporary obstacle disrupting progress




Deep, often affecting multiple areas of life
Temporary disruption, usually in one area


Combination of multiple challenges
Singular incident

Required Response

Sustained effort and perseverance
Problem-solving and adaptability

Emotional Effect

Can be overwhelming and demanding
Frustrating but manageable

Compare with Definitions


Challenges that test resilience and character over time.
Overcoming adversity made him stronger and more determined.


A temporary disruption that requires adjustments to overcome.
Failing the exam was a setback, but he studied harder and passed the next time.


A broad range of difficulties requiring sustained effort to overcome.
They endured years of adversity but eventually found success.


An obstacle that can be addressed with resilience and strategic planning.
The unexpected expense was a financial setback, but they managed to recover.


Prolonged or severe difficulties or misfortune.
She faced great adversity after losing her job and home.


An incident that interrupts forward momentum.
Losing the key client was a setback for the company.


A state of hardship affecting multiple life aspects.
The community showed remarkable resilience in the face of adversity.


A specific event or obstacle that hinders progress.
The project's delay was a setback, but they quickly caught up.


Circumstances causing continuous suffering or distress.
Adversity struck when the economy crashed, impacting everyone.


A challenge that is typically short-term and manageable.
A minor injury caused a setback in her training schedule.


A difficult or unpleasant situation
She overcame many adversities
Resilience in the face of adversity


An unanticipated or sudden check in progress; a change from better to worse.


A state of hardship or affliction; misfortune.


A steplike recession in a wall. Also called setoff.


A calamitous event.


Any of a series of such recessions in the rise of a tall building.


(uncountable) The state of adverse conditions; state of misfortune or calamity.


An automatically timed setting of a thermostat to a lower temperature, as in the home at night.


(countable) An event that is adverse; calamity.


An obstacle, delay, disadvantage, blow an adverse event which retards or prevents progress towards a desired outcome
After some initial setbacks, the expedition went safely on its way.


Opposition; contrariety.
Adversity is not without comforts and hopes.


(US) The required distance between a structure and a road.


A state of misfortune or affliction;
Debt-ridden farmers struggling with adversity
A life of hardship


(architecture) A step-like recession in a wall.
Setbacks were initially used for structural reasons, but now are often mandated by land use codes.


A stroke of ill fortune; a calamitous event;
A period marked by adversities


An offset to the temperature setting of a thermostat to cover a period when more or less heating is required than usual.


A backset; a countercurrent; an eddy.


(archaic) A backset; a check; a repulse; a relapse.


A backset; a countercurrent; an eddy.


A reversal of progress in an endeavor; a reverse; a backset; a check; a repulse; a relapse.


An unfortunate happening that hinders of impedes; something that is thwarting or frustrating

Common Curiosities

What is a setback?

A setback is a specific, temporary obstacle that disrupts progress.

What are examples of adversity?

Examples include chronic illness, prolonged unemployment, and natural disasters.

Can setbacks lead to adversity?

Multiple setbacks can contribute to a period of adversity if they accumulate and create prolonged difficulties.

Is adversity always negative?

While challenging, adversity can build character and resilience, leading to personal growth.

How long does a setback last?

Setbacks are usually short-term and temporary, lasting days to weeks.

How does adversity differ from a setback?

Adversity involves long-term, multiple challenges, whereas a setback is a short-term, singular incident.

What is adversity?

Adversity refers to prolonged or significant difficulties and hardships faced over time.

Can a setback be beneficial?

Setbacks can be beneficial by providing learning experiences and opportunities for improvement.

How long does adversity typically last?

Adversity can last for an extended period, ranging from months to years, depending on the circumstances.

What are examples of setbacks?

Examples include a failed exam, a missed deadline, or a temporary financial shortfall.

How do you overcome adversity?

Overcoming adversity requires resilience, perseverance, support, and sustained effort.

How do you handle a setback?

Handling a setback involves problem-solving, adaptability, and strategic adjustments.

Can overcoming adversity lead to success?

Yes, overcoming adversity often strengthens resilience and determination, contributing to long-term success.

What is the emotional impact of adversity?

Adversity can be overwhelming and demanding, often causing significant stress and emotional strain.

What is the emotional impact of a setback?

Setbacks can be frustrating but are generally manageable with a positive mindset.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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