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.

Examples of dichotomy in a Sentence

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
Recent Examples on the Web And that dichotomy is very fascinating to me, particularly something that is pointed out in the Roman Reigns story. Alfred Konuwa, Forbes, 28 Mar. 2024 No, because the crazy dichotomy is Nolan is not about control. Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, 10 Mar. 2024 See all Example Sentences for dichotomy 

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

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 22 Apr. 2024.

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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