Dual - duel

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Be careful to distinguish the homophones dual (with an A) and duel (with an E). Both are pronounced DYOO-erl, IPA: /'djuː əl/.


The word 'dual' may be either an adjective or a noun. As an adjective 'dual' means 'relating to two, consisting of two parts, or having two aspects'. For example, a person who is a citizen of two countries has dual nationality; a tool which has two functions has a dual purpose and is a dual-purpose tool; and a road with two carriageways, i.e., a road in which traffic travelling in one direction is separated by a barrier or central strip of grass from traffic travelling in the opposite direction, is a dual carriageway.

In grammar and linguistics 'dual' as an adjective is used to describe those forms of words which refer to, or are used in connection with, two items of the same kind. In some languages (e.g., Ancient Greek and Arabic) there are special forms of nouns, adjectives, and verbs, in addition to singular and plural forms, to be used with two items of a kind. For example, the Ancient Greek word ἀνθρώπω (anthrōpō) means 'two men' and the Arabic word kalbāni means 'two dogs', ἀνθρώπω (anthrōpō) being a dual form of the noun ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos, man), and kalbāni a dual form of the noun kalb (dog). However, in this context the word 'dual' is also used as a noun: thus we may say that Greek and Arabic have a dual (i.e., a dual number), and that ἀνθρώπω (anthrōpō) and kalbāni are duals, i.e., instances of the dual number. (See further Number in grammar.)

There are two further nouns related to 'dual'. 'Duality' means 'the state of being two, or of having two parts or two aspects', while 'dualism', as well as having a similar meaning to 'duality', is more commonly used to refer to those theories or systems of belief which represent the world or some aspect of it as essentially consisting of two opposed (sets of) entities. For example, Cartesian dualism is the philosophical view (articulated by, among others, the French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650)) that human beings are a union of a material body and an immaterial mind, while the Zoroastrian doctrine that the world is fundamentally a struggle between Ormazd, the god of light and goodness, and his enemy, Ahriman, the spirit of darkness and evil, is an example of a dualism in the sphere of religious belief. The adjective from 'dualism' is dualist or, less usually, dualistic, and a person who holds a dualist theory may be said to be a dualist (noun).


A duel is a pre-arranged contest between two individuals with deadly weapons (e.g., swords or pistols). Duels were traditionally fought to settle a 'point of honour', e.g., because one of the parties had insulted the other or claimed that he had behaved dishonourably, and the latter then considered himself obliged to 'defend his honour' by challenging the first to a duel, which would be fought until one of the parties was killed or injured (although 'honour' was sometimes considered to have been 'satisfied' in a pistol duel if a participant had 'stood fire', that is remained upright as a shot passed him by, without necessarily 'returning fire' (i.e. shooting back)). No duels have been fought in the United Kingdom since Victorian times: the last was in 1852. A person who fights a duel is a dueller or duellist. There is also a verb, 'to duel', meaning 'to fight a duel', and a verbal noun 'duelling', meaning 'the activity of fighting a duel'.

The word 'duel' may also be used of any contest between two persons, by whatever means it is fought, e.g., a contest between two runners in a race, or between two disputants each trying to get the better of the other in a discussion (a duel of words or a verbal duel) - as in the weekly duel between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons.

Etymological note: 'Dual' comes from the Latin dualis, meaning 'related to two', which in turn comes from the Latin word for the number two, duo. Some have thought that the word 'duel' has a similar etymology, but this is false: 'duel' comes from the Latin duellum, a poetic form of the word bellum, meaning 'war'.