di·chot·o·my | \dī-ˈkä-tə-mē also də- \
plural dichotomies

Definition of dichotomy 

1 : 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

2 : something with seemingly contradictory qualities it's a dichotomy, this opulent Ritz-style luxury in a place that fronts on a boat harbor— Jean T. Barrett

3 : the phase of the moon or an inferior planet in which half its disk appears illuminated

4a : bifurcation especially : repeated bifurcation (as of a plant's stem)

b : a system of branching in which the main axis forks repeatedly into two branches

c : 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
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Recent Examples on the Web

In a recent episode, Brooklyn Nine-Nine allows Amy to break down this dichotomy while recognizing its cultural pervasiveness. Sauleha Kamal, The Atlantic, "The Character Who Made Me Love Brooklyn Nine-Nine," 12 June 2018 This, however, is a false dichotomy, since religious people are also spiritual — because religion deals with God, angels, heaven and hell, which are — what else? — spiritual. Lorraine V. Murray, ajc, "Beware of the church demon on Sunday mornings," 1 June 2018 Fast forward one year, to right now, and the dichotomy on the Dolphins — the disconnect — is repeating itself. Greg Cote, miamiherald, "In great disconnect on Dolphins' expectations, these factors will tell us who's right," 31 May 2018 But the underlying dichotomy of US policy goals in Europe has a familiar ring. Howard Lafranchi, The Christian Science Monitor, "How strong a Europe does US want? In Trump era, that's still the issue.," 13 July 2018 So just a week ago when Nicole Curtis, the star of HGTV's Rehab Addict, shared a refreshingly honest post on Instagram, I was reminded of the fact that yes, this dichotomy exists between real life and the Internet world for celebrities, too. Taylor Mead, House Beautiful, "Nicole Curtis Is Fighting For Custody Of Her 3-Year-Old Son," 11 July 2018 This false and even dystopian dichotomy has regained some currency by feeding upon growing public frustration with governments’ inability to make democracy work for all. Chito Gascon, Time, "What the Philippines Tells Us About the Broken Promises of Human Rights," 30 May 2018 Focusing on the false dichotomy of identity versus issues diverts attention from the more significant gap — that between citizen and elite. Renad Mansour, Washington Post, "What to expect from Iraq’s election on Saturday," 7 May 2018 That dichotomy is essential to sustaining the mystical omniscience of a play that draws heavily from biblical scripture and Jewish ritual. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ Is a Transfixing Epic of Riches and Ruin," 13 July 2018

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.

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First Known Use of dichotomy

1610, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for dichotomy

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

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Statistics for dichotomy

Last Updated

17 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for dichotomy

The first known use of dichotomy was in 1610

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More Definitions for dichotomy



English Language Learners Definition of dichotomy

: a difference between two opposite things : a division into two opposite groups


di·chot·o·my | \dī-ˈkät-ə-mē also də-\
plural dichotomies

Medical Definition of dichotomy 

: a division or forking into branches especially : repeated bifurcation

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Comments on dichotomy

What made you want to look up dichotomy? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a state of commotion or excitement

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