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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web So how do Bravo reality stars make sense of this dichotomy? Krystie Lee Yandoli, Rolling Stone, 18 Nov. 2023 But there’s the dichotomy in that in all the other metrics, you’re being discounted. Lauren Dukoff, Glamour, 1 Nov. 2023 The anecdote stems from a dynamic prevalent not just in hip-hop but across art forms: the supposedly rigid dichotomy between the alternative and the mainstream. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 15 Sep. 2023 The film captures dichotomies that were central to the band and their endless internal and external conflicts. Daniel Dylan Wray, Pitchfork, 11 Oct. 2023 The dichotomy of his corporate reach and downtown appeal makes Chavarria a singular force in the fashion industry. Devan Díaz, Los Angeles Times, 12 Sep. 2023 The dichotomy between political leaders and tech leaders was highlighted by a surprising world leader voice during an event hosted by Elon Musk in San Francisco before the U.N. summit. Adam Taylor, Washington Post, 29 Sep. 2023 But the dichotomy of generative AI — of possibility and risk — is everywhere. Alex Weprin, The Hollywood Reporter, 28 Sep. 2023 Biggest poverty increase in over half a century The latest Census data underscores the dichotomy of the post-pandemic economy, which has been marked by a strong job market yet also rising inflation that's hobbled many households. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, 12 Sep. 2023 See More

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 30 Nov. 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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