di·​chot·​o·​my | \ dī-ˈkä-tə-mē How to pronounce dichotomy (audio) 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 McGill says his guests are comprised of a 50/50 breakdown of Black and white Americans, making for an important dichotomy of experience and history. Hadley Keller, House Beautiful, "The Slave Dwelling Project Endeavors to Retell American History by Spotlighting Spaces Where Enslaved People Lived," 18 Feb. 2021 The disconnect between the company’s outer offerings and inner workings is revealing of a dichotomy present across the tech industry — a desire to perform solidarity rather than enact policies that demonstrate it. New York Times, "The Rise of the Wellness App," 17 Feb. 2021 And more importantly, Kates said, pitting speed against prioritizing the vulnerable is a false dichotomy. Melody Schreiber, The New Republic, "Why West Virginia’s Vaccine Rollout Puts New York and California to Shame," 16 Feb. 2021 So there’s a bit of a dichotomy in how viruses spread. The Atlantic, "Listen: Coronavirus Mutations," 15 Jan. 2021 Mayhap that’s a comment on the real/unreal dichotomy of the series? Abraham Riesman, Vulture, "WandaVision Recap: Use Your Illusion," 15 Jan. 2021 Virk's words also present a false dichotomy between vaccine safety and reports of allergic reaction. Star Tribune, "Readers Write: Potential U of M alcohol sales, COVID vaccines, whites-only sect in Murdock," 13 Dec. 2020 Colt’s amalgam of swagger and regret reflects the dichotomy inside the insurrectionist movement that is newly emboldened after storming the Capitol on Wednesday, but is also fractured, in part, because of its leaders’ loose grip on reality. Anchorage Daily News, "Far-right extremists want to target more capitols, but are divided after DC riot," 10 Jan. 2021 Torn and intact was Greenfield’s uneasy dichotomy, where mine was hot and cold. Virginia Heffernan, Wired, "Something Was Wrong. My Nightgown Was in Flames," 10 Dec. 2020

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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Time Traveler for dichotomy

Time Traveler

The first known use of dichotomy was in 1610

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Statistics for dichotomy

Last Updated

23 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Dichotomy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dichotomy. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for dichotomy



English Language Learners Definition of dichotomy

formal : 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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