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Generally, a trichotomy is a splitting into three disjoint parts.


In mathematics, the most concrete law of trichotomy that is usually seen is the statement that for any real numbers x and y, exactly one of the following relations holds: x < y, x = y, x > y.


More generally, a law of trichotomy is any statement that for some binary relation on some set S, which we may denote by using the "less than" symbol "<", and for any two members x, yS, exactly one of the relations above holds. For a transitive binary relation this is exactly equivalent to saying that the binary relation in question is a linear ordering of the set S.


In the special case of cardinal numbers, trichotomy is equivalent to the Axiom of Choice.


In taxonomy a trichotomy is speciation of three groups from a common ancestor, where it is unclear or unknown in what chronological order the three groups split.


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