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1) You come to a fork in the road.

You need to make a choice between going left or right. You face a decision between the left path and the right path. You have the option to advance in either direction.

2) You go right.

Right was your choice. Right was your decision. Right was the option you selected.

In the case of 2), each of the three words is used to denote an alternative. Right is a choice, a decision, an option, or an alternative. In the case of 1), each word is used to denote a set of competing alternatives. "Left or right?" is a choice to be made, a decision to be faced, an option of which way to go, or a set of competing alternatives.

All three of these words seem to be ambiguous between 1) and 2) (and of course, there's nothing special about the fork in the road example; this is a general problem that can make it difficult to use these words effectively in some contexts). What I would like to ask for are two separate lists of a few words that are uniquely appropriate for 1), and a few other words that are uniquely appropriate for 2). Thus far it seems alternative and selection might work uniquely for 2), but I've come up with nothing at all uniquely applicable to 1).

closed as too broad by MetaEd, user66974, Chenmunka, tchrist, oerkelens Aug 5 '16 at 10:53

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    Welcome to ELU. I think the starting point for this question is to explain your distinction between the two. E.g. the first is something that exists independently from you, and the second is completely dependent on you. Is that what you're trying to express? If so, option vs decision seems appropriate. – Lawrence Jul 25 '16 at 2:28
  • Decision is different: you can have multiple choices, meaning multiple options, and you can say that your choice was to go left. But there is only ever one decision: the left and right paths are options, but only the one you go down can be referred to as your decision. – Max Williams Jul 25 '16 at 13:03
  • What about the "choosing" or "making a choice" for the first one? – user2180613 Jul 25 '16 at 13:24
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If neither fork in the road would lead you to a happy place, dilemma would work for 1) (a set of competing alternatives):

noun
1. a situation requiring a choice between equally undesirable alternatives.
(from Dictionary.com)

You face a dilemma between [taking] the left path and the right path.

And for 2) (the alternative chosen to resolve the dilemma), there’s resolution:

Noun …
3. something resolved or determined; decision
(from Collins Dictionary)

[Turning] Right was your [selected] resolution.

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1) You come to a fork in the road.

You have the possibility to advance in either direction.

2) You go right.

Right was your chosen path.

Possibility cannot be used in (2) and chosen cannot be used in (1).

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I really like this question.

I see four distinct meanings here instead of two, namely: (1) an act or instance of choosing, (2) a thing that can be chosen, (3) the set of things that can be chosen among, and (4) a thing that has been chosen.

In these terms, I think you’re looking for a noun that means 1 but cannot mean 2 and cannot mean 4, and you’re also looking for a noun that means 2 or 4 but cannot mean 1.

Unfortunately, I can’t find anything that fits the bill:

Choice

  • 1 - “He faced a choice of snowball flavor.”
  • 2 - “He had over 20 choices for flavor.”
  • 3 - “He marveled at the broad choice.”
  • 4 - “His choice was spearmint.”

Decision

  • 1 - “It was his decision what flavor to get.”
  • 4 - “His decision was cherry.”

Option

  • 1 - “He faced the option of a lump sum or an annuity.”
  • 2 - “There were three options on the ballot.”
  • 4 - “He was served the vegetarian option.”

Alternative

  • 1 - “She faced the alternative of speaking up or staying quiet.”
  • 2 - “Several alternatives occurred to her.”

Selection

  • 1 - “Selection took three months because there were so many applicants.”
  • 2 - “There were several selections available.”
  • 3 - “There was a wide selection at the potluck.”
  • 4 - “The user’s selection was shown in the lower left.”

Resolution

  • 1 - Resolution of the dilemma dragged on for months.
  • 4 - His resolution to run every day was forgotten by the end of January.

Possibility

  • 2 - “Several possibilities were presented to the board.”
  • 3 - “Her future was full of possibility.”

As a practical matter, if you want to avoid this ambiguity, I suggest using choice-related verbs instead of abstract nouns. On-point verbs combined with concrete nouns are often stylistically better than abstract nouns anyway. For example:

  • “Bob must decided on a color.” (Compare: “Bob must make a decision among the color possibilities.”)
  • “You can choose a three-year or five-year term.” (Compare: “Your choice is between three-year or five-year alternatives.”)
  • “He always opts for a flavor he hasn’t tried.” (Compare: “His choice is always a flavor option he hasn’t tried.”)
  • “The board selected the offer with the largest cash component.” (Compare: “The board’s selection was the alternative with the largest cash component.”)

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