di·​chot·​o·​my dī-ˈkä-tə-mē How to pronounce dichotomy (audio)
 also  də-
plural dichotomies
: a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities
the dichotomy between theory and practice
also : the process or practice of making such a division
dichotomy of the population into two opposed classes
: something with seemingly contradictory qualities
it's a dichotomy, this opulent Ritz-style luxury in a place that fronts on a boat harborJean T. Barrett
: the phase of the moon or an inferior planet in which half its disk appears illuminated
: bifurcation
especially : repeated bifurcation (as of a plant's stem)
: a system of branching in which the main axis forks repeatedly into two branches
: branching of an ancestral line into two equal diverging branches

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Dichotomy and False Dichotomy

The two most commonly used senses of dichotomy are easily (and often) confused. The older one refers to the division of something into two groups that often are mutually exclusive or contradictory (as in “the dichotomy between good and evil”). Like trichotomy (meaning “division into three parts”), this sense denotes separation into different elements, but it adds the connotation of oppositeness. The newer sense of dichotomy denotes a thing that appears to have contradictory qualities, such as a lemonade stand found in a war zone. Dichotomy is frequently found in the company of the word false; a false dichotomy is a kind of fallacy in which one is given only two choices when in fact other options are available.

Example Sentences

The amusing spectacle of the recent presidential vote in Florida should remind us of the persistence of the federal-state dichotomy. Eugene Genovese, Atlantic, March 2001
At the close of this millennium, the favored dichotomy features a supposed battle called "the science wars." Stephen Jay Gould, Science, 14 Jan. 2000
… to insist on its being either symbol or fact is to dwell needlessly on a false dichotomy. Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, 1988
… the Inuit concept of their environment was centred around the dichotomy between land and sea. Ian Hodder, Reading the Past, 1986
Her essay discusses the dichotomy between good and evil in the author's novels. her outfit is a sartorial dichotomy: an elegant gown and ratty old tennis shoes See More
Recent Examples on the Web There is a difficult dichotomy that occurs when a negative event, like the neo-Nazi protest last month, takes place. Max Mccormack, Harper's BAZAAR, 16 Mar. 2023 Lexi Livingstone Burgess, founder of Livingstone, looked to the history of Scotland’s whisky industry and the dichotomy of partnerships and rivalries over the years as his muse. Jonah Flicker, Robb Report, 2 Mar. 2023 The fact that Skyler is hated and Kim is celebrated highlights the dichotomy of the Bad universe. Whitney Friedlander, SPIN, 21 July 2022 Below are examples of methodologies and tools that can help in addressing the dichotomy of risk and change. Saeed Elnaj, Forbes, 27 June 2022 In this dichotomy, Zolita finds a clear narrative, telling her own story of moving through, out of and in between relationships; a pretty stellar feat to accomplish in six songs. Stephen Daw, Billboard, 10 Feb. 2023 This dichotomy bleeds into myriad elements of understanding, from capital investments to personal biases. Partners For Rural Transformation, Forbes, 19 May 2022 Entering Monday, Seager’s season from the plate had been a dichotomy between the expected and the actual. Dallas News, 11 July 2022 There is also the dichotomy between the low elevation northern hemisphere and higher elevation southern hemisphere of the planet. Erik Klemetti, Discover Magazine, 26 May 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'dichotomy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


borrowed from New Latin dichotomia, borrowed from Greek dichotomía "division into two parts (of the moon, in logic), bisection," from dichótomos "cut in half, dichotomous" + -ia -ia entry 1

First Known Use

1610, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of dichotomy was in 1610

Dictionary Entries Near dichotomy

Cite this Entry

“Dichotomy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dichotomy. Accessed 29 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


di·​chot·​o·​my -mē How to pronounce dichotomy (audio)
plural dichotomies
: a division into or distinction between two groups that differ greatly
the dichotomy between good and evil

Medical Definition


dī-ˈkät-ə-mē also də-
plural dichotomies
: a division or forking into branches
especially : repeated bifurcation

More from Merriam-Webster on dichotomy

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