• 2-minute read
  • 12th January 2016

Word Choice: Duel vs. Dual

We lunge at you with my sword while shouting ‘En garde!’ and we commence a fight to the death. Why are we fighting? Given our pedantic nature, probably because of a disagreement about spelling. The more important question is whether we have challenged you to a ‘duel’ or a ‘dual’?

Here, we’re confronted by some homophony: two words which sound alike, yet differ in meaning. It’s therefore understandable that many people get ‘duel’ and ‘dual’ confused, but taking a moment to learn the difference is wise.

Duel (A Battle)

The word ‘duel’ can be used as both a noun and a verb, though in either case it refers to a pitched battle between two opponents. When used as a noun, ‘duel’ refers to the fight itself:

Sir Henry and Lord Abercrombie arranged to settle matters in a duel.

As a verb, ‘duel’ refers to the act of duelling:

Sir Henry and Lord Abercrombie chose to duel using pistols.

As with the examples above, most of the time we use the word ‘duel’ we’re thinking of an old-fashioned way of settling disputes from the days before killing each other over a point of honour was frowned upon.

Nowadays, the word ‘duel’ is also used metaphorically to refer to a struggle between two people, organisations or ideas:

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The Ashes is a sporting duel between Australia and England.

Dual (Double)

The word ‘dual’, meanwhile, is an adjective meaning ‘double’ or ‘composed of two parts’. As such, someone with both Australian and Italian passports could be described as having ‘dual citizenship’.

We further use this term to describe something which serves two functions. A spork, for example, is a ‘dual-purpose’ implement that combines the qualities of a fork and a spoon.

Duel or Dual?

As shown above, ‘duel’ and ‘dual’ are different enough that you won’t want to confuse them in your written work. Try to remember:

Duel (with an ‘e’) = A fight

Dual (with an ‘a’) = Double

If you’re still unsure, it might be worth remembering that ‘en garde!’ – the traditional cry of duelling sword fighters – starts with an ‘e’, as this can remind you that ‘duel’ contains an ‘e’ too!

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