Dichotomy Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It?

Not sure what dichotomy means? Don’t worry — we can help! Read on as we explore the term dichotomy to uncover its definition, origin, and more. 

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When trying to figure out a word’s meaning, it can be helpful to review a number of definitions from more than one reputable source. Today, we will be exploring the English term dichotomy, so we went ahead and compiled a shortlist of definitions below.

What Is the Definition of Dichotomy?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a dichotomy is a division into two especially mutually exclusive — or contradictory — groups. 

In another definition provided by the Cambridge Dictionary, dichotomy refers to a difference between two completely opposite things or ideas. 

When reviewing the Collins Dictionary, the definition of dichotomy is listed as a noun that means a division into two parts, groups, or classes — especially when these are sharply distinguished.  

Although each dictionary provides a slightly different definition from the rest, we can conclude that the term dichotomy means a difference between two opposites. 

In other words, when you point out a dichotomy, you draw a clear distinction between two contrasting entities. The division could be spiritual, physical, economic, psychological, or philosophical. The entities can be two individuals, two groups of people, one person versus a group of people and vice versa, or even two elements of an individual’s character at odds with each other.     

What Is the Origin of Dichotomy?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition, the term dichotomy comes from ancient Greek dikhotomia from dikhotomos, divided into two dikho- dicho- meaning “division into two parts” in Indo-European roots.

Dichotomy was used by scholars in the 17th century, but the concept has been present in stories since before the written word (ex: think of the “good vs. evil” dynamic in the biblical Garden of Eden). 

Examples of Dichotomy

There are many great examples of dichotomy — here are just a few of them:

  • Good/evil
  • Object/subject
  • Masculine/feminine
  • Function/dysfunction
  • Black/white
  • Eastern/Western
  • Thought/action
  • Horror/romance
  • Protagonist/antagonist
  • Witches/wizards
  • Montagues/capulets

Synonyms and Antonyms

To further your understanding of the term dichotomy, it can be helpful to discover its synonyms and antonyms. 

A synonym is a word that has the same or almost the same meaning as another word, whereas an antonym is a word that has the opposite meaning as another word. 

In addition to strengthening your knowledge of dichotomy, learning antonyms and synonyms is a great way to enhance your overall vocabulary.  


  • Contradiction 
  • Incongruity
  • Paradox
  • Mutually exclusive
  • Dualism
  • Duality
  • Separation
  • Polarity
  • Dialectic
  • Distinction
  • Division
  • Bipartition
  • Bifurcation


  • Agreement
  • Harmony
  • Likeness
  • Sameness
  • Similarity
  • Approval
  • Accord
  • Peace
  • Concurrence
  • Concession
  • Similar nature
  • Usualness

Example Sentences

Now that you know what dichotomy means let’s review a few examples to learn how to use the term in a sentence. 

“Ask anyone, and they will tell you that there is definitely a dichotomy between the academic world and the industrial world.”

“Dichotomy should always refer to a division of some kind, but you probably already knew that.”

“Is there really a dichotomy of interests between the two?”

“The dichotomy between privileges and rights provides is unreal.”

“It continues the gender dichotomy of men as mind; women as body.”

“Did you know that in astronomy, dichotomy can be defined as the phase of the moon, Mercury, Venus, or an inferior planet in which half of its disk appears illuminated?”

“Dichotomy can refer to the division of a class, such as the lower class versus the upper class.”

“The essay that I wrote when I went to Princeton University discussed the dichotomy between the angel and devil.”

“If you ask me, the classic play Romeo and Juliet written by William Shakespeare represents the most famous dichotomies in literature to this day.”

“Another good example of dichotomy in literature would be Luke Skywalker, who represents good, battling against Darth Vader, who represents evil, in the Star Wars films.”

“When studying botany, dichotomy refers to a vein of the body or stem of a plant dividing into two parts as it proceeds from its origin.”

“The dichotomy between the two resulted in a puzzling situation.”

“When you really think about it, dichotomy is a really good literary tool that can help highlight opposing ideas.”

“We had an interesting discussion about a rigid dichotomy between mysticism and science.”

“The author’s novels always have good examples of dichotomy.”

In Conclusion

So, what does dichotomy mean, you ask?

Simply put, dichotomy can be defined as a difference between two opposite things. When used in literature, writers often use dichotomy to create conflict in their stories. 

The term is also used by astronomers to describe a phase of the moon or an inferior planet in which half of the disc appears illuminated. In addition, botanists use dichotomy in terms of botany branching, which is characterized by constant forking into two approximately equal divisions. 

Bottom line: Dichotomy can be simply defined as a difference between two opposite things. 

We hope this guide has provided you with all of the information you need to understand the meaning of dichotomy. To discover more interesting words and their definitions, feel free to check out our website, where you’ll also find grammar tools, tips, and more!


  1. Romeo and Juliet | Folger Shakespeare Library 
  2. Dichotomy definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
  3. DICHOTOMY | definition in the | Cambridge English Dictionary