The Grammarphobia Blog

A choice usage

Q: The mayor of Seattle recently chose between two candidates for police chief. Would it be  correct to say he had two choices? Or did he have a single choice between two alternatives? I think the former would be wrong, but I cannot get anyone to support me.

A: The  noun “choice” doesn’t always mean “that which is chosen.” It has other definitions as well.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) lists “option” and “alternative” among the accepted definitions.

So it would not be incorrect to say the mayor had two choices to pick from. And this is not a particularly new usage either.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates this use of the word back to 1794. Here’s a typical citation, from Edward A. Freeman’s The History of the Norman Conquest (1871):

“In dealing with William the Conqueror there were only two choices, unconditional submission and resistance to the last.”

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