or trade·off

[ treyd-awf, -of ]
/ ˈtreɪdˌɔf, -ˌɒf /
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the exchange of one thing for another of more or less equal value, especially to effect a compromise.


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Origin of trade-off

First recorded in 1960–65; noun use of verb phrase trade off
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a trade-off?

A trade-off is an exchange of one thing for another. A trade-off can be literal, involving physical items, like in a lunch trade-off, where you get your friend’s lunch and they get yours.

A trade-off can also be figurative, as when you have to stay home because you’re sick but the trade-off is you get to stay in bed all day. In this sense, a trade-off is a kind of compromise.

Example: The big trade-off to running a marathon is getting to eat a lot of pasta!

Where does trade-off come from?

The first records of the term trade-off come from around 1960. It is a noun form of the verb phrase trade off, which means to exchange one thing for another, usually as a compromise.

A trade-off is often performed to create a compromise. For example, you might give someone something you’d rather keep in exchange to form a relationship or obtain a service. Sometimes trade-off is used to describe a quick exchange that may or may not be suspicious.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to trade-off?

  • tradeoff (alternative spelling)

What are some synonyms for trade-off?

What are some words that share a root or word element with trade-off

What are some words that often get used in discussing trade-off?

How is trade-off used in real life?

Trade-off is a common way to describe a compromise.



Try using trade-off!

Is trade-off used correctly in the following sentence?

It rained all day today, but I didn’t have to leave the house, so I guess that’s a fair trade-off.

How to use trade-off in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for trade-off


an exchange, esp as a compromise
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for trade-off


What must be given up, and what is gained, when an economic decision is made.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with trade-off

trade off

Exchange one thing for another, especially as a compromise. For example, They were willing to trade off some vacation for the freedom to work flexible hours. This idiom gave rise to tradeoff for “an exchange.” [First half of 1800s]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.