Sometimes when people are enumerating the good and bad aspects of something, the same thing comes up in both the pros and cons. For example, a certain policy may be considered good because it benefits the rich; however, this same policy may also be considered bad because it benefits the rich.

What word or phrase refers to such a situation?

  • 2
    That's what dilemma means, and why it has horns to be caught on. Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 18:15
  • 2
    Doesn't dilemma rather describe a situation where you have two choices with equally undesirable outcomes?
    – J_LV
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 18:28
  • 3
    A 'double-edged sword' is used to describe situations like that.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 18:46
  • 1
    How about a word and a number? "Catch-22"
    – 7caifyi
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 20:12
  • 2
    Why has no one suggested a "tradeoff"?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 22:06

7 Answers 7


You can argue such a situation (or policy) both ways.

There is more than one way of looking at it.

The outcome could go either way.

It might be a compromise decision or policy that could lead to unintended consequences.

The decision rests on a value judgment.

  • How is this answer contained in a "word"?
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 22:18

One term that is sometimes used is "mixed blessing."


The most obvious one to me would be...

double-edged sword

A situation or course of action having both positive and negative effects


If you feel that something has both positive and negative aspects then you have ambivalent feelings about it.

Having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone:

  • some loved her, some hated her, few were ambivalent about her

  • an ambivalent attitude to Europe

  • To say that councillors are ambivalent about the idea is an understatement.

  • Those sentiments are a far cry from her early years when she had an altogether more ambivalent attitude towards her singing.

  • In practice, we have managed to do better than our ambivalent attitudes suggest.

If something is open to more than one interpretation then the adjective equivocal is more appropriate.

Open to more than one interpretation; ambiguous:

  • However, the evidence on industrial disputes is at least equivocal and there are indications of higher levels of conflict that challenge notions of quiescent workforces unwilling to take action.

If something is partly good and partly bad then it is a "double-edged sword"; it "cuts both ways".

Macmillan: Partly good and partly bad

It might be simplest to just say that the thing has "both good and bad aspects". Then you can go on to talk in detail about what they are and what's good/bad about them.

  • 1
    Both describe an uncertainty or somewhat of a contradiction, but none of them succeed at conveying that the same thing is causing both a negative and a positive reaction at the same time. Ambivalent is like "hmm, is it good, is it bad, can't make up my mind!". That doesn't imply "it's both good and bad!" like it should according to the OP.
    – J_LV
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 21:45
  • +1 for good and bad and cuts both ways but -1 for ambivalent (which doesn't fit the OP's request) Not very keen on *ambiguous either but its closer...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 8:54

That would be: an equivocal policy, in my opinion. A policy should be clear regarding who benefits from it.

  • 1
    I disagree. That would mean it's ambiguous. I don't think that's what the OP meant.
    – J_LV
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 19:22
  • @J_LV Oh yes, and all the others are fine....the answer with the most votes is ambivalent.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 22:17

You could say that you are "evaluating a situation". Or simply use the word evaluation.

Words like evaluate and assess mean that you are discussing the pros and cons.



a state in which opposing forces or actions are balanced so that one is not stronger or greater than the other Merriam-Webster

After a lot of consideration I've decided to post this as I honestly can't think of anything else that'd be a better fit. However I still don't feel like this hits the mark.

It succeeds at expressing that there are opposing forces (ergo, a pro and a con) but fails to convey that they are in conflict over the same issue and unfortunately implies that that both sides have an equally strong argument/case.

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