Word Choice: Duel vs. Dual

The words “duel” and “dual” sound similar but have completely different meanings. Mixing up words like these can lose you marks on a paper and make your work look unprofessional.

As such, it’s always important to check for errors if you are unsure what a word means.

Duel (A Fight)

A “duel” is a prearranged fight between two people over a disagreement. It is mostly a historical term, usually for a battle using guns or swords:

The two gentlemen met at dawn, guns in hand, ready for the duel.

It can also be used as a verb to describe the act of participating in such a fight:

President Andrew Jackson cocked his pistol as he faced his opponent. “All right, sucker,” he said, “It’s dueling time!” 1

These days, you’re more likely to find “duel” used metaphorically to describe an argument or rivalry between two people or groups:

The duel for the presidency began with a debate between the candidates.

Dual (Double)

“Dual” means “double” or “twofold.” It therefore indicates that something is doubled or includes two parts, such as in “dual nationality.”

This term is also used to describe something with two functions. We could describe a spork, for example, as a “dual-purpose” tool, since it combines the qualities of a spoon and a fork.

Duel or Dual?

The difference between these terms is significant, so mixing them up in your written work could look bad. Thankfully, their differing definitions also means that the main challenge is learning how each word is spelled. Remember:

Duel (with an “e”) = A fight

Dual (with an “a”) = Double

1 Although President Andrew Jackson took part in up to 100 duels during his life, we can’t confirm that the dialogue is historically accurate.

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