Here’s an interesting question — what’s the difference between solve and resolve? The dictionary doesn’t tell us much — OALD gives:
- solve: to find a way of dealing with a problem or difficult situation; to find the correct answer or explanation for sth
- resolve (formal): to find an acceptable solution to a problem or difficulty [plus a couple of intransitive meanings]
However, I am sure I can hear a difference between the words, and I don’t think it’s because resolve is more formal. So, I checked the Corpus of Contemporary American English for nouns that collocate with these verbs — i.e., what things do we solve or resolve. Here are the top results:
- Solve … problem mystery crime case puzzle crisis issue murder riddle conflict dilemma
- Resolve … problem issue conflict dispute difference question crisis matter situation case dilemma
From this list, I would suggest that:
- Solve carries the meaning of finding the one correct solution (the criminal, the answer to the riddle), so when it is used with words like problem, case, issue, dilemma, I am guessing it will carry over the meaning that there is one (simple?) solution.
- Resolve is used for situations that are more complex and multi-dimensional — as the dictionary indicates, it means finding a satisfactory solution (but not, perhaps the only possible solution).
Of course, solve is the more common words (about 50% more frequent in COCA than resolve), so this is likely to be most people’s first choice, but I think this distinction will hold. Please let me know if you find some good examples!