The verb to solve is generally used to mean find a solution – for example an answer or explanation. We solve a problem, something with a logical or complete answer. The verb to resolve has a number of meanings, one of which is to deal with conclusively – that is, to settle something, effectively to finish it in an acceptable way. This meaning of resolve is close to the meaning of solve, but with the difference that solve is used to find the correct answer to a problem; resolve is used more generally to conclude a problem. The conclusion reached with resolving something may be one of many choices, and it may not please everyone, but it concludes the problem, finishing it. The conclusion reached with solving a problem, however, suggests the correct and definite answer has been found.
When do we use solve or resolve?
This difference means that solve and resolve are often used in slightly different contexts. To generalise, we tend to solve something objective, and resolve something subjective. That is, problems that require solving have a factual, simple (typically right or wrong) solution; problems that we resolve have a debatable, flexible solution. Solve and resolve may therefore be found in different collocations:
Solve concerns logical problems:
- Solve a maths problem
- Solve a riddle
- Solve a dilemma
- Solve a computing problem
Resolve typically concerns emotional problems:
- Resolve a dispute
- Resolve a conflict
- Resolve a disagreement
Solve vs Resolve Exercise
Complete the following past tense sentences with the most appropriate verb – either solve or resolve.
- I _____ the mystery of the missing chair.
- The girls _____ their argument by reaching a compromise.
- The maze was impossible to _____.
- We _____ the problem with our boiler by replacing one of the parts.
- He _____ the dispute between the two diplomats, though neither were happy.
- I solved the mystery of the missing chair.
- The girls resolved their argument by reaching a compromise.
- The maze was impossible to solve.
- We solved the problem with our boiler by replacing one of the parts.
- He resolved the dispute between the two diplomats, though neither were happy.