Dual vs. duel?

The adjective dual means “two” or “double.” The word duel is a verb or noun that references a rivalry or competition between two parties.

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What is the difference between dual and duel?

Dual and duel are homophones, meaning they have similar spellings and pronunciations but different meanings: 

  • Duel is a verb or noun that references an arranged competition between two parties. 
  • Dual is an adjective that describes something as consisting of two parts.

What does dual mean?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the adjective dual describes something as “consisting of two parts, elements, or aspects” (“Dual” 534). For example, “dual controls describes two sets of controls in a car or airplane, while “dual citizenship” refers to the citizenship of two countries at the same time (a “dual citizen”). 

How to use dual in a sentence?

Dual is an adjective, so it needs to modify a noun. Be sure to include a hyphen after “dual” if it’s paired with another word to modify a noun (ex: “a dual-processing system;” “a dual-processor”).

Example sentences

  • “Lunar Orbiter II took the photograph with a dual-camera system, using a “velocity-height sensor” to adjust the film for orbital motion.” — LA Times
  • “In the Archer Heights neighborhood, many poll workers and election monitors outside of the dual-language school only spoke Spanish.” — Medill Reports
  • “Police discovered a cannabis plant growing on the verge of a dual carriageway.” — BBC
  • “When [he] crossed the finish line first overall Wednesday afternoon in the final dual meet of his career at Whitman-Hanson, he passed the family torch on to his first cousin, Myah.” — The Boston Globe
  • “At first, the band lived a dual life, working in New York City as Highly Suspect and heading back to New England every few days to play sets of covers in bars.” — New York Post


Binary, bipartite, double, duplex, paired, twin, twofold.

Etymology of dual

Dual derives from Latin dualis through the word duo (‘two’) (534). 

What does duel mean?

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines duel as a noun or verb that historically references a contest using deadly weapons (typically guns or swords) between two people (“Duel” 536). 

The judicial duel

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the “judicial duel” or “trial by battle” was the earliest form of dueling (noun), dating as far back as the European Middle Ages (circa 400–1400 CE). The initial practice of dueling functioned to prevent men from killing one another in the heat of passion and to settle legal disputes involving perjury.

In the event that one man testified against another and the accused man denied the accusation in front of a judge, the judge would order the men to meet in a duel. Unlike the duels that would come later on, the judge decided the time, place, and weapons of the duel, and the two people would fight to the death believing god would allow the right duelist (noun) to win. 

Example sentences

  • “The rest of the 1306 decree specifies the elaborate rules and procedures of the duel, from the initial appeal and the formal challenge to the elaborate ceremonies at the field of battle that precede the combat itself.” — History News Network
  • “The judicial duel was, as its name implies, a legal practice, conducted before magistrate and public, whereas the duel of honor was private, secular, and, for most of its history, illegal.” — The New Yorker

Post-medieval duels

Variations of dueling (noun) carried into the early 17th century, but the most common image of duels in popular culture involves those between two men who fought to settle an argument or point of honor. Still, these were no ordinary fights. As noted by Garner’s Modern English Usage, duels were a formal form of combat fought under “an accepted code of procedure and in the presence of witnesses” (Garner 308). 

For instance, the offended party always appointed a “second,” whose duty was to mediate altercations between parties without violence. More specifically, the antagonizing dualist sent their second to deliver a challenge to the offender. If the recipient apologized, no duel was necessary. But if they accepted the challenge (which they often did), they got to choose the time, place, and, most importantly, the weapons.

Additional dueling terms varied by country, culture, and era, but most duels that took place in the United States allowed dualists to resolve their differences before and during the duel through their “seconds” so that no one had to die. 

In duels that used firearms, the seconds would negotiate between shots if neither dualist had yet shot each other. Sometimes, the mere act of shooting at or injuring an opposing dualist was enough to satisfy the challenger, resolving matters without death. But since duels were highly influenced by one’s pride, countless historical duels resulted in death, and often by skirting traditional rules

Example sentences

  • “The man presiding over that trial was Vice President Aaron Burr, who was dodging charges in New Jersey for fatally shooting Alexander Hamilton in a duel the previous summer.” — The Washington Post
  • “To his lasting embarrassment, Abraham Lincoln barely escaped being drawn into a duel early in his political career, and President Andrew Jackson carried in his body a bullet from one duel and some shot from a gunfight that followed another.” — Smithsonian Magazine
  • “Shaped by the codes duello, the Italian duel was an elaborate performance in which civility and justice played equal parts.” — The New Yorker

Modern duels

Formal duels largely fell out of practice by the 20th century, with most dueling traditions made illegal by the mid-1800s. And while we see lingering (albeit corrupted) versions of dueling through gang violence or street fighting, we seldom use “duel” to reference these actions in the same way. 

Instead, the noun and verb “duel” tends to reference any contest or race between two people or parties (especially in reference to sports). Additionally, the verb duel may make an appearance when it means “​​to oppose actively and forcefully” (308). 

Example sentences

  • “The pitching duel was on early at Citi Field between Taijuan Walker and Zack Wheeler.” — Yahoo! Sports
  • “Expect both defenses to give up 30-plus points as the quarterbacks duel between possessions.” — Bleacher Report
  • “[Former European Council President] returned to the fore of Polish politics on Saturday, becoming leader of the main opposition party in a move that revives a duel with his long-standing foe…” — Reuters
  • “It’s a more subtle way of letting him know you want to move up without meeting him at high noon for a duel.” — The New York Times

How to use duel in a sentence?

As a verb, we can use duel in the following forms: dual/duals for the present tense, dueling/duelling for the present participle, and dueled/duelled for the past participle. Both “duelling” and “duelled” are preferred spellings for British English, although “dueling” is also a noun referencing the act of fighting a duel (or many) (536). 

Additional nouns with American vs. British spelling variations include dueler/dueller (a dueling gun or person who duels) and duelist/duellist (someone in a duel). 


Noun: Battle, combat, competition, conflict, confrontation, contention, contest, dogfight, face-off, grapple, match, rivalry, strife, struggle, war.

Verb: Battle, box, brawl, clash, combat, contend, fight, grapple, rassle, scuffle, skirmish, strike, spar, tussle, wrestle.

Etymology of duel

Duel stems from medieval Latin duellum, with influences of bellum (‘war’) and dualis (‘of two’) to mean ‘combat between two persons’ (536). 

How to remember duel and dual?

There’s no standard mnemonic tool to remember the difference between duel and dual. But if you’re especially prone to misspelling these words, we have two potential solutions:

  1. Since the word dual essentially means “two,” try associating the letter -a- of “dual” with “and.” 
  2. A duel historically ended with one person dying. Therefore, try associating the letter -e- of “duel” with the word “end.”


DUAL” → contains the letter A = “and” (two things)

DUEL” → contains the letter E = “end” (ends with one death)

Additional reading

If you enjoyed learning the difference between dual and duel, be sure to check out similar lessons from The Word Counter, such as:

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between dual and duel with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false?: The words duel and dual are homophones.
    a. True
    b. False
  2. The verb duel meant “to fight a rivalry using a sword or gun to settle a disagreement or point of honor” during the ________.
    a. 1600s
    b. 1700s’
    c. 1800s’
    d. All of the above
  3. The adjective dual best describes _____________.
    a. Two or more fights
    b. Two components
    c. Two people in a competition
    d. Two or more parts
  4. A duel can take place between two ____________.
    a. Entities
    b. Parties
    c. People
    d. All of the above
  5. Which of the following sentences is correct?
    a. “The team is headed to Southern California on Saturday for their annual dual against CSUN.”
    b. “The Eagles experienced dual losses after losing the championship and announcing the injury of their dual-threat receiver and quarterback.” 
    c. “The future viability of the new iPhone depends on its dual-camera system.” 
    d. “UK Athletics’ duel-pilot program is set to premiere at dawn.”

Quiz Answers

  1. A
  2. D
  3. B
  4. D
  5. B


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  19. Smith, A. “Mets takeaways from Friday’s 4-3 loss to Phillies, including late rally coming up short.” Yahoo! Sports, sports.yahoo.com, 17 Sept 2021.
  20. Steinbreder, J. “The Last American Duel.” Global Golf Post, globalgolfpost.com, 4 Jan 2021.
  21. The History of Dueling in America.” American Experience, PBS, n.d.

Photo contributors: McGill Library (@mcgillibrary) and Debbie Hudson (@hudsoncrafted) on Unsplash.