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I have noticed many people say "I'm debating" when they mean they are in a dilemma between two choices. I always thought that to debate means discussing different view points between two individuals, not within the head of a single person, therefore debating here seems like an incorrect usage of the term but I am not sure.

Can somebody please clarify?

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My favorite phrasing has always been "I'm on the horns of a dilemma", which nicely conveys the potential anguish of the situation. –  MT_Head Jan 14 '13 at 19:58
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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Debate can be used as a verb to mean consider a possible course of action in one’s mind before reaching a decision. For example,

Jason debated whether to take the train or the bus to Berlin for his mission.

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The usage of "I'm debating" is not incorrect here, it may actually be more appropriate than "I'm in a dilemma" in some situations.

A dilemma is "a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, esp. equally undesirable ones." Using the word dilemma when the choices are not dire is a form of hyperbole.

The way you've defined debating is only partially correct; debating is not strictly between two people. Debating can also mean "to consider a possible course of action in one's mind before reaching a decision."

It's also worth noting that in "I'm debating", the subject is active, while "I'm in a dilemma", the subject is passive.

Webster definitions:

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In terms of phrasing, I'm in a dilemma between is not something that is ever used and would sound quite awkward and broken to someone who had spoken English their whole life.

Usage of I'm in a dilemma between

Perhaps I'm facing a dilemma choosing between seems more complete and natural.

As the others have mentioned, debating is not limited to multiple parties and the process it implies is just as applicable internally as well as between two or more.

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Welcome to EL&U. Please edit your answer to explain it and show the research you did that supports it. –  MετάEd Jan 14 '13 at 17:51
    
    
@JonHanna Agreed, but the full usage cited was 'I'm in a dilemma between' which certainly isn't common and is quite nonsensical. –  Rodgers and Hammertime Jan 14 '13 at 19:03
    
@JonHanna books.google.com/ngrams/… –  Rodgers and Hammertime Jan 14 '13 at 19:04
    
Hardly rare –  Jon Hanna Jan 14 '13 at 19:09
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Dilemma means a tough situation or a time where you need to choose one out of Yes or No OR it,s a complicated time
Eg:I am in dilemma between two course whether to go for MBA or BBA

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