• 2-minute read
  • 18th August 2015

Word Choice: Duel vs. Dual

The words ‘duel’ and ‘dual’ sound alike when spoken and look similar written down (separated only by a vowel). It’s therefore quite easy to mix them up, even if you know roughly what they mean.

But since such errors can impact on your ability to communicate ideas effectively in writing – an essential skill in academic and business settings – it’s vital that you avoid this type of confusion.

To help out we’ve prepared this quick guide on how to use ‘duel’ and ‘dual’. Though don’t forget that you should also have your work double-checked before submission.


The word ‘duel’ can be either a noun or a verb, though in both cases it usually refers to a prearranged battle between two combatants. As a noun, ‘duel’ refers to the fight itself:

Lord Hambleton challenged the viscount to a duel.

As a verb, it refers to the act of duelling:

Viscount B’scuit smiled: ‘Then tomorrow we duel!’ he said.

Historically such duels were fought to settle matters of honour and often utilised swords or ‘pistols at dawn’. A more modern usage, however, is to describe a struggle between two people, organisations or ideas:

The election turned into an intriguing political duel.


The term ‘dual’ indicates that something is doubled or composed of two parts. Many driving instructors, for example, have a second set of pedals in their cars so they can intervene during lessons: this is known as a ‘dual-control system’.

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We can also use ‘dual’ to describe something designed to fulfil two functions:

The dual-purpose spork combines the qualities of a spoon and a fork.

An Etymological Note

One reason people get these words confused is that a ‘duel’ is typically a fight between two people. As such it’s easy to assume that ‘duel’ has the same roots as ‘dual’ (the Latin duo, meaning ‘two’).

But this is just a coincidence. The word ‘duel’ actually comes from the Medieval Latin duellum, meaning ‘war’. You don’t have to remember this, but it can help in telling these words apart!

Duel or Dual?

Once you know what these words mean it’s fairly easy to know which to use in any given situation. Just remember:

Duel (with an ‘e’) = A fight

Dual (with an ‘a’) = Double

As long as you keep this in mind, you should be able to use these terms with absolute confidence.

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