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If something's dichotomous, it's divided into two distinct parts. It can describe a plant whose leaves pair off in opposing buds or anything — a government, a relationship — that has two divisions that are sharply opposed.

The relationship between science and mysticism, or astrology and astronomy, for example, are two examples of a dichotomous relationship: each side has a completely irreconcilable set of basic principles. You might say the same about a father and son who support different baseball teams. Not surprisingly, the word dichotomous comes from the ancient Greek word dikhotomia, meaning "a cutting in half." So be warned and make sure your children grow up supporting the same team as you.

Choose your words

Caught between words? Learn how to make the right choice.

stationary/ stationery

Make sure you’re stationary, or still, while you jot down a love letter on your fancy stationery, so the writing isn’t all squiggly.

laudable/ laudatory

Something worthy of praise is laudable. Something or someone that gives praise is laudatory.

allude/ elude

Allude is coy, to allude is to refer to something in an indirect manner. But elude’s favorite thing to do is hide from the cops; it means to evade. Because the accent is on the second syllable in both words, it’s easy to get them mixed up.

who/ whom

To Whom It May Concern: who is a subject and whom is an object. Who acts and whom receives. Say what? Who is like "he" or "she" and whom is like "him" or "her." Who is collecting money for homeless kittens? He is! Then to whom does the money go? Send the money to him. read more...

prophecy/ prophesy

One letter separates prophecy from prophesy, and the close relationship is derived from a shared word history. read more...

who's/ whose

Knock knock. Who's there? It's an apostrophe telling you that who's is short for "who is." Whose silly idea was it to make these words sound alike? Who knows? But whose shows possession and who's is a contraction. read more...

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