How to use dual and duel

Seeing double? Not quite! Dual is two, or double, but a duel is a fight. If you’re getting sick of your fair-weather friend’s dualpersonality, perhaps you should throw down your glove and challenge him to a duel at high noon.



Dual means double, or having two elements. If you have a dual major, it means you’re majoring in two subjects, like astronomy and microbiology.

The adjective dual comes from the Latinduo, for two, and means having two parts. You can have a dual purpose, following two goals at once. To copilot an airplane, you need a cockpit with dual controls. If you’re sometimes nasty and sometimes sugar sweet, people might think you have a dual personality. Don’t confuse dual, though, with duel, which is a fight between two people.


A duel is a fight between two people, usually using swords or other weapons. If you tend to be a little cowardly, you’re probably glad that people aren’t expected to defend their honor with a duel these days.

The classic definition of a duel is the kind that happens all the time in Shakespeare plays: two men clanking swords together in a battle to the death over some issue of honor or betrayal. Today, the wordduel can be used to talk about any kind of contest or struggle — like a duel between political candidates. The word duel can be traced back to both duo, Latin for “two,” and also duellum, which means “war.”

Dual, which dates from the early 1600s, is borrowed from the Latin dualis, from duo, for two.Dual still means double or two similar parts:

The ego becomes dual, one part active, the other watching and judging. (Max Simon Nordau)

Last night’s game had kind of a dual purpose — playing Oregon and sending out this version of Husky Stadium. (Seattle Times)

Duel once referred to an arranged, formal contest to the death between two people, preferably men with handlebar mustaches. These formal contests are no longer practiced, soduel has broadened to mean any contest between two people, teams, or even ideas:

In early days a properly regulated duel was an ordeal showing the judgment of heaven. (Max Simon Nordau)

In a savage duel between the regime and Islamist guerrillas, entire villages were wiped out. (Business Week)

There are dueling pension propositions on Tuesday’s ballot. (Washington Post)

Save dual for double, for things that come in pairs, like your hot/cold friend with the dualpersonality. Use duel for an old timey sword fight, or any modern version of it. Handlebar mustache not required.

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