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Recently, I ran into the word "为难“ which means roughly that someone is in a dilemma/is having difficulty deciding . The sentences that was used as an example was 离开还是留下, 他很为难。 Could some explain the difference between the usage of 为难 and 矛盾? they seem to have relatively similar meanings in this context.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

There's a nuanced difference:

  • 为难 means to be troubled over a difficult issue, indicating that the speaker isn't sure what to do and/or cannot make a decision easily. For example, 美称对台渔民遇害案感到为难 - "Regarding the (Philippine's) killing of Taiwanese fisherman, the United States (as a friend of both) says it is caught between a rock and a hard place."

  • 矛盾 means something is self-contradictory, indicating that the speaker is experiencing opposite desires/emotions/feeling/etc. For example, 愛情令人感到矛盾 - "Love makes people feel conflicted (between fairytale-romance and reality)".

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nuanced? not really. in my opinion, they are hugely different. – Calvin Kwok Aug 3 '14 at 5:42
So,to clarify 为难 is literally deciding between two things (feeling of difficulty deciding between the two). While 矛盾 is the feeling of different opinions and not being able to figure out which one you believe. – Stephen Aug 3 '14 at 22:04
@Stephen Yup, pretty much. Though I would say 矛盾 only means you have opposing opinions; not necessarily that you can't decide which one to go with. Hence you get constructs such as "苹果应用准则前后矛盾!开发者很为难" ("Apple application rules are self-contradictory; developers are troubled.") - using 为难 to express the inability to decide. – Semaphore Aug 4 '14 at 1:32
So 矛盾 literally can mean self-contradictory? I.e. that it says two different, opposing things at once? – Stephen Aug 4 '14 at 11:19
@Stephen Yup. In fact, that's its source meaning. The phrase comes from an ancient story of a self-contradictory arms dealer, who tried to sell a shield (盾) as "impenetrable" and a spear (矛) as "penetrates anything". Modern usages such as 感到矛盾 "conflicted" in this example or 闹矛盾 "fighting (due to difference in opinion)", are all derived from that primary meaning of contradictions. – Semaphore Aug 4 '14 at 11:32

My experience is pretty limited, and the only way I've heard 为难 use is in the sense of "embarrassed/awkward/in a quandary". This is being put in a position to make a decision, yes, but can also refer to the embarrassed feeling that might go with it. Am I on the right track?

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"為難" emphasizes on difficulty in making decision.

"矛盾" emphasizes on contradiction in thoughts.

You can feel "為難" because of "矛盾", but not the contrary.

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"为难" -- dilemma. think of the meaning of 难 (difficult).

   -- so you can also replace this word to "很难做"or "很难选择", for example 
       1.离开还是留下, 他很难选择.

"矛盾" -- Being definitely contradictory between two things (think of 矛 and 盾 as the literal meaning of 矛盾)

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there is a huge difference between those two words. Just simply focusing on their literal meaning: 为难-- difficult to do/to choose, while 矛盾-- contradiction – Calvin Kwok Aug 3 '14 at 5:59
Kevin, if for example I hadn't played drumset for five years (because I decided it wasn't good for me to play) and then one day I saw a drumset and felt like I really wanted to play. Should I say 去不去打鼓, 我很为难。 Couldn't I also say 看到大鼓让我感到矛盾。 – Stephen Aug 3 '14 at 22:08

為難 means troublesome and 矛盾 means misunderstanding/contradictions.

For example, 你的決定讓他很為難. It means "Your decision has made him troublesome".

Then, 他們之間有矛盾. It means "They have slight misunderstanding/contradictions between them".

為難 could be the result of 矛盾.

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