In German we have the pretty common term Ausschlussverfahren for this, especially used as a line of reasoning when solving a puzzle/problem. Linguee gives out several options, but imho no coherent and representative term/phrase, I would trust. Process of elimination sounds awkward to me, but seems much more common than terms I thought of, like exclusion method.

Which terms/phrases do you know matching the meaning in the title?

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    By the way, the style of game where the winner is chosen by eliminating all the other players is called "last man standing". Thought you might find that a useful, related phrase.
    – kojiro
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 14:23

6 Answers 6


The phrase Process of elimination is quite normal to native English-speakers, I think the meaning of what you want would be understood perfectly with this phrase. Was there a particular sentence you wanted to use with this word/phrase, which you found awkward?

  • … and is also the first translation offered by Google Translate in preference to exclusion procedure, exclusion methods, exclusion method, and expulsion procedure.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 20:53
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    Hauser, maybe the term will look a bit more natural to you when you consider it in a sentence. For example: "A process of elimination was used to determine the correct answer." or "We arrived at the solution through a process of elimination". Also note that the process of elimination is used in deductive reasoning so there may be contexts where you would prefer to use "deductive reasoning" over "process of elimination".
    – Bjorn
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 21:02
  • It didn't sound like a fixed common term to me, more like a constructed phrase concerning a real-world process (e.g. exclusion of a person from a party), as there were so many alternatives on linguee. I want to use it as a special line of reasoning. I think procedure/method would fit here much better, but the majority already ruled ;)
    – Hauser
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 21:40
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    +1. In my experience, this phrasing is very frequently used as the whole construct "by process of elimination". E.g. "By process of elimination, we know X" (when all alternatives to X have been eliminated).
    – jprete
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 22:13
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    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner :) the problem is more that in German you don't use a "Prozess" (german for process, this phrase doesn't exist), you can use a method, a procedure, a technique, but a process is more a phenomenological description of something somebody does, a group of people or a natural/technological phenomenon you describe as "process of"... method/technique/procedure (also listed in linguee) make much more sense to me in this context of a distinct line of reasoning. Process is quite often used for describing bio./physical phenomenons
    – Hauser
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 22:16

In the field of medicine, I have heard this called ruling out (general form: to rule (something) out).


A doctor would run through a series of tests, ruling out a number of incorrect diagnoses, and would be left with the correct diagnosis.
        —Validity of a Set of Clinical Criteria to Rule Out Injury to the Cervical Spine in Patients with Blunt Trauma

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    It's not "the rule out." "Rule out" is a verb, and so to use it as a noun, you use the gerund form, "ruling out."
    – jwodder
    Commented Nov 23, 2011 at 21:39
  • In speaking to one another, I have heard medical professionals call this framework of thinking an algorithm or the Rule-out hypothesis. It may be more grammatical to say Ruling out; however, there are many English expressions that are not grammatical.
    – rajah9
    Commented Nov 24, 2011 at 14:03

Another idiomatic English phrase which could fit is trial and error though this can imply some naivety or randomness in the selection of possible solutions


Another term used in medicine is differential diagnosis



What about 'winnowing' as a more poetic option?


'Filtering off the wrong solutions'. You think this sounds better?

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