Not for the first time, Tim Bowen gets tough on word grammar.
The word tough normally functions as an adjective but it can also function as an adverb, a noun, an interjection and as part of a phrasal verb. Apart from its usual meanings relating to difficulty and strength, tough can also be used to mean ‘very strict and severe’, as in ‘The government is introducing tough new laws on industrial pollution’ or ‘The new police chief promises to get tough on crime’. Tough can also be used to describe a place that is violent and crime-ridden, as in ‘We grew up in a tough inner-city neighbourhood’.
As an adverb, tough is used with verbs like act and talk to mean in a way that shows you are determined, strong or not afraid, as in ‘He likes to act tough but he’s just a big softie at heart’. A tough is a violent man, especially a violent criminal, as in ‘When we left the pub, there was a gang of toughs waiting on the street corner’.
As an interjection, tough ( or tough luck) is used to show that you have no sympathy with the person you are talking to, as in ‘I wanted to come with you’, ‘Tough! You shouldn’t have been late’ or ‘Actually, I don’t like pasta very much.’ ‘Tough luck! That’s all there is’.
Tough also forms part of the phrasal verb to tough out, meaning to stay in a situation that is difficult because you are very determined, as in ‘When I started the job, I was getting flak from all sides but I decided to stay and tough it out for a while’.