Wednesday, September 2

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, September 02, 2015 5 comments
For today's phonics fun, I'm going to tackle the semi-homophone pair, dual and duel. Most pronounce the words similarly, though one of the pair might have two syllables (dewl; DEW-ul). There may be significant variation here depending on your dialect. The two are most often confused in written contexts, because they sound nearly alike and are spelled nearly alike.

Their meanings, however, are nearly antonyms. Nearly because they aren't the same part of speech. The A version is an adjective, the E version, a noun and verb. But both involve twosomes, the former, friends, the latter, enemies.

Confused yet? Let's dive in to meanings, see the words in context and learn some handy mnemonics to keep them straight (not strait, that's a geography term).

A dual team. Photo by earl53 from


(adj.) having two parts or aspects that are alike or complementary.


  • Geoffrey is a dual citizen of the US and Canada.
  • The dual speaker system makes the sound so rich.
  • Dual airbags keep both front passengers safe in a crash.
  • Maisie had a dual purpose for her trip--to relax and find a man.
  • We call our two-man  mime act "Dual Fools."

Dual parts are always pals.

Fencers dueling. Photo by FidlerJan from


(n.) a contest or battle between two opponents to settle a dispute or point of honor.

(v., intrans.) to battle, to fight in a duel.


  • Benedict challenged Roderigo to a duel for publicly embarrassing his wife.
  • Kate and Leo dueled all semester to become valdictorian.
  • Hal displayed his grandfather's épée, a light dueling sword.
  • The Ravens and the Mustangs will duel for the league championship.

Enemies ever duel to the end.

Do these two words trip you up? What homophone pairs give you trouble?


  1. Confused yet??? Haha! It's words like these that make me so grateful for my thesaurus and online dictionary. No matter how much I try to memorize them they just don't stick to my brain matter. Thus, I always look them up. :)

    1. The nearly opposite meanings make it especially embarrassing when you misuse them. You could try my handy mnemonics to help you remember, though those don't work for everyone.

  2. Those I've got straight in my head, but I keep wondering why our language has so many pitfalls.

    1. It's because English is a very mongrel language built from dialects of German and French with huge numbers of new words gleefully stolen from nearly every other language. Unlike some languages, English doesn't typically alter spellings to make them fit a set of pronunciation rules. We just grab and go. As a result of this word salad, Greek, Yiddish, and Algonquin words sit side by side, each retaining the spelling rules of their original language. Whee!

  3. Good breakdown. Thanks for keeping us straight!