Hobson's choice


Hob·​son's choice ˈhäb-sənz- How to pronounce Hobson's choice (audio)
: an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative
: the necessity of accepting one of two or more equally objectionable alternatives

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In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Thomas Hobson worked as a licensed carrier of passengers, letters, and parcels between Cambridge and London, England. He kept horses for this purpose and rented them to university students when he wasn't using them. Of course, the students always wanted their favorite mounts, and consequently a few of Hobson's horses became overworked. To correct the situation, Hobson began a strict rotation system, giving each customer the choice of taking the horse nearest the stable door or none at all. This rule became known as Hobson's choice, and soon people were using that term to mean "no choice at all" in all kinds of situations.

Examples of Hobson's choice in a Sentence

He jokingly referred to dinner as a Hobson's choice between soup and salad or salad and soup.
Recent Examples on the Web Read my lips, in a veritable Hobson's choice between person or thing, AI is a thing, for now. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 21 June 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'Hobson's choice.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Thomas Hobson †1631 English liveryman, who required every customer to take the horse nearest the door

First Known Use

1649, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of Hobson's choice was in 1649


Dictionary Entries Near Hobson's choice

Cite this Entry

“Hobson's choice.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Hobson%27s%20choice. Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

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