noun di·chot·o·my \ dī-ˈkä-tə-mē also də- \
|Updated on: 11 Jul 2018

Definition of dichotomy

plural dichotomies
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
4 a : 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

Examples of dichotomy in a Sentence

  1. The amusing spectacle of the recent presidential vote in Florida should remind us of the persistence of the federal-state dichotomy. —Eugene GenoveseAtlanticMarch 2001
  2. At the close of this millennium, the favored dichotomy features a supposed battle called "the science wars." —Stephen Jay GouldScience14 Jan. 2000
  3. … to insist on its being either symbol or fact is to dwell needlessly on a false dichotomy. —Simon SchamaThe Embarrassment of Riches1988
  4. … the Inuit concept of their environment was centred around the dichotomy between land and sea. —Ian HodderReading the Past1986
  5. Her essay discusses the dichotomy between good and evil in the author's novels.

  6. her outfit is a sartorial dichotomy: an elegant gown and ratty old tennis shoes

Recent Examples of dichotomy from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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 1-ia

dichotomy Synonyms

DICHOTOMY Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of dichotomy for English Language Learners

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

Medical Dictionary


noun di·chot·o·my \ dī-ˈkät-ə-mē also də- \

medical Definition of dichotomy

plural dichotomies
: a division or forking into branches; especially : repeated bifurcation

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


to beat or defeat soundly

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Test Your Emoji Exceptionalism

  • test-your-emoji-exceptionalism-written-with-a-lot-of-emoji
  • What is this emoji intended to represent: 🤳
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!