Dual vs. Duel: What’s The Difference?

Duel and dual belong to a genre of vocabulary called homophones which means they sound the same but have different meanings and spellings in the English language. They also both originate from Latin, although they have different root words. And both can be used as a noun or a verb. With all this in common, they are frequently confused words.  Making sure you have the correct spelling for this particular pair of homophones could literally be the difference between life and death! In which case it’s imperative to pay attention as to what sets them apart and how to use them in a sentence.

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What Does Duel Mean?

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a duel as, “a combat between two persons”. They further clarify that it’s specifically, “a formal combat with weapons fought between two persons in the presence of witnesses.” Duel is a noun since it’s an action/event that takes place, however, it’s also possible to use it as a verb:

·      I dueled

·      You dueled

·      They dueled

·      She/he dueled

Intransitive verb

·      to fight a duel

Transitive verb

·      to encounter (an opponent) in a duel

History and Etymology of the Word Duel

Most words have a story attached to them and an evolution that explains its development through history. Etymonline describes duel as originating from the Latin word duelle, meaning single combat, in late 15c., and Medieval Latin duellum meaning combat between two persons.

What Happens in a Duel?

Historically a duel is considered judicial combat between two people and witnessed by a judge. There are several reasons a duel may have occurred:

·      To settle a dispute that a court couldn’t.

·      A fight for a point of honor, whether that be personal or family Arms.

·      Land ownership.

·      Love.

Although duels can be traced back to ancient times they first became mainstream when a treaty between France and Spain broke down in 1526 and Frances I challenged Charles V to a duel. The duel never took place but besides taking the act of dueling mainstream this event introduced duels into the upper classes of society as an acceptable way to settle a dispute.

Code Duello

Can you believe that duels came with a list of rules? The Irish Code Duello was developed in 1777 and listed 27 rules to arbitrate a civil resolution of the disagreement. This code was adopted by America and Europe.   

Famous Duels in History

One of the most significant duels in American history happened in 1804 between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States. It was a fatal outcome for Alexander Hamilton much to the dismay of the American public. However, this didn’t deter the popularity of duels for another thirty years.

As recent as 2002, Iraqi Vice President Ramadan reached out to American President George Bush and suggested he should settle his differences with Sadam Hussein with a duel. He appeared to use guidelines from the Code Duello as a framework for its execution.  

What Does Dual Mean?

Merriam Webster defines dual as referencing two parts or a double function. Dual is a way to describe the noun and mainly functions as an adjective. However, it is a multi-purpose word that can also serve as a noun or a verb, also.

History and Etymology of the Word Dual

It stems from the Latin duālis concerning two, and also from the Greek duo also referring to two.

Dual was first used as an adjective in 1597 and as a noun in 1650.

What Are Some Synonyms for Dual?

·       Binary

·       Bipartite

·       Duo

·       Double

·       Double-edged

·       Twin

Examples of Dual in Different Contexts

In case you’re still confused about the different functions of the adjective dual, here are some sentences that are examples from Merriam Websters English Learners Dictionary:

Having two parts uses:

·       She married an Italian man and now has dual citizenship in her own country and Italy

·       The song’s lyrics have a dual meaning

·       There is a dual purpose to this study

·       The co-pilots use dual controls to fly this airplane. 

Where the previous examples showed dual in the context of having double meaning or uses, these next examples demonstrate how dual can be used to show two parts or two of something:

·       Our car has dual airbags

·       She pursued dual careers in acting and music

·       Families with dual incomes have more disposable income

Dual as an adverb, dually:

·       She is dually talented as a writer and artist.

Dual as a noun:

The dual carriageway is a great option to bypass the motorway traffic.

What Are Some Synonyms for Duel?

To better understand the meaning of a word and the context it can be used in it can be useful to know what synonyms it has.


·       Battle

·       Combat

·       Confrontation

·       Face-off

·       Rivalry

·       War

How to Use the Word Duel in a Sentence as a Noun

·      They engaged in a duel of wits to determine who would win the chess championship

·      There was going to be a duel to see which man had the skills to be team captain

·      The two men met at dawn for a duel to the death.

How to Use the Word Duel in a Sentence as a Verb

·      The contention in the boardroom was based on dueling concepts that each various board members supported.

·      The dueling elements of the wind and the fire made containment much more treacherous 

Sentences that Use Both Dual and Duel

·       His dual personality makes me angry and want to challenge him to a duel.

·       It was a duel of wits with the immigration officer to secure my dual citizenship.

·       She had an internal duel on a daily basis to decide which of her dual careers she preferred.

·       The Code Duello has a dual purpose.


Now you see the difference between duel and dual you can be more confident with your writing skills. Because they are homophones the differences aren’t obvious when you speak. For listening it’s important to put the words into context to understand which version is being referred to. Of course, duel has a very specific context and isn’t as popular as dual. You could remember that duel means combat by thinking of the ‘e’ standing for enemy.


  1. https://www.etymonline.com/
  2. https://thewordcounter.com/what-is-a-proper-noun/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Hamilton
  4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2297371.stm
  5. https://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/dual