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definitions - Decision-making

decision making (n.)

1.the cognitive process of reaching a decision"a good executive must be good at decision making"

Decision Making (n.)

1.(MeSH)The process of making a selective intellectual judgment when presented with several complex alternatives consisting of several variables, and usually defining a course of action or an idea.

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synonyms - Decision-making

decision making (n.)


decision-making (n.)

decision process

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decision making (n.)

décision (fr)[DomaineCollocation]

decision-making (n.)

decision-making (n.)


Decision making

  Sample flowchart representing the decision process to add a new article to Wikipedia.

Decision making can be regarded as the mental processes (cognitive process) resulting in the selection of a course of action among several alternative scenarios. Every decision making process produces a final choice.[1] The output can be an action or an opinion of choice.



Human performance in decision terms has been the subject of active research from several perspectives. From a psychological perspective, it is necessary to examine individual decisions in the context of a set of needs, preferences an individual has and values they seek. From a cognitive perspective, the decision making process must be regarded as a continuous process integrated in the interaction with the environment. From a normative perspective, the analysis of individual decisions is concerned with the logic of decision making and rationality and the invariant choice it leads to.[2]

Yet, at another level, it might be regarded as a problem solving activity which is terminated when a satisfactory solution is reached. Therefore, decision making is a reasoning or emotional process which can be rational or irrational, can be based on explicit assumptions or tacit assumptions.

One must keep in mind that most decisions are made unconsciously. Jim Nightingale, Author of Think Smart-Act Smart, states that "we simply decide without thinking much about the decision process." In a controlled environment, such as a classroom, instructors encourage students to weigh pros and cons before making a decision. However in the real world, most of our decisions are made unconsciously in our mind because frankly, it would take too much time to sit down and list the pros and cons of each decision we must make on a daily basis.

Logical decision making is an important part of all science-based professions, where specialists apply their knowledge in a given area to making informed decisions. For example, medical decision making often involves making a diagnosis and selecting an appropriate treatment. Some research using naturalistic methods shows, however, that in situations with higher time pressure, higher stakes, or increased ambiguities, experts use intuitive decision making rather than structured approaches, following a recognition primed decision approach to fit a set of indicators into the expert's experience and immediately arrive at a satisfactory course of action without weighing alternatives. Recent robust decision efforts have formally integrated uncertainty into the decision making process. However, Decision Analysis, recognized and included uncertainties with a structured and rationally justifiable method of decision making since its conception in 1964.

A major part of decision making involves the analysis of a finite set of alternatives described in terms of some evaluative criteria. These criteria may be benefit or cost in nature. Then the problem might be to rank these alternatives in terms of how attractive they are to the decision maker(s) when all the criteria are considered simultaneously. Another goal might be to just find the best alternative or to determine the relative total priority of each alternative (for instance, if alternatives represent projects competing for funds) when all the criteria are considered simultaneously. Solving such problems is the focus of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) also known as multi-criteria decision making (MCDM). This area of decision making, although it is very old and has attracted the interest of many researchers and practitioners, is still highly debated as there are many MCDA / MCDM methods which may yield very different results when they are applied on exactly the same data.[3] This leads to the formulation of a decision making paradox.

  Problem Analysis vs Decision Making

It is important to differentiate between problem analysis and decision making. The concepts are completely separate from one another. Problem analysis must be done first, then the information gathered in that process may be used towards decision making.[4]

Problem Analysis
  • Analyze performance, what should the results be against what they actually are
  • Problems are merely deviations from performance standards
  • Problem must be precisely identified and described
  • Problems are caused by some change from a distinctive feature
  • Something can always be used to distinguish between what has and hasn't been effected by a cause
  • Causes to problems can be deducted from relevant changes found in analyzing the problem
  • Most likely cause to a problem is the one that exactly explains all the facts
Decision Making
  • Objectives must first be established
  • Objectives must be classified and placed in order of importance
  • Alternative actions must be developed
  • The alternative must be evaluated against all the objectives
  • The alternative that is able to achieve all the objectives is the tentative decision
  • The tentative decision is evaluated for more possible consequences
  • The decisive actions are taken, and additional actions are taken to prevent any adverse consequences from becoming problems and starting both systems (problem analysis and decision making) all over again
  • There are steps that are generally followed that result in a decision model that can be used to determine an optimal production plan.[5]
  • In a situation featuring conflict, role-playing is helpful for predicting decisions to be made by involved parties.[6]
Decision Planning

Making a decision without planning is fairly common, but does not often end well. Planning allows for decisions to be made comfortably and in a smart way. Planning makes decision making a lot more simpler than it is. Decision will get four benefits out of planning: 1. Planning give chance to the establishment of independent goals. It is a conscious and directed series of choices. 2. Planning provides a standard of measurement. It is a measurement of whether you are going towards or further away from your goal. 3. Planning converts values to action. You think twice about the plan and decide what will help advance your plan best. 4. Planning allows to limited resources to be committed in an orderly way. Always govern the use of what is limited to you (e.g. money, time, etc..) [7]

  Everyday techniques

Some of the decision making techniques people use in everyday life include:

  • Pros and Cons: Listing the advantages and disadvantages of each option, popularized by Plato and Benjamin Franklin. Contrast the costs and benefits of all alternatives. Also called Rational decision making.
  • Simple Prioritization: Choosing the alternative with the highest probability-weighted utility for each alternative (see Decision Analysis)
  • Satisficing: Examining alternatives only until an acceptable one is found.
  • Elimination by Aspects: Choosing between alternatives using Mathematical Psychology[8] Technique was introduced by Amos Tversky in 1972. It is a covert elimination process that involves comparing all available alternatives by aspects. The decision-maker chooses an aspect; any alternatives without that aspect are eliminated. The decision-maker repeats this process with as many aspects as needed until there remains only one alternative [9]
Preference Trees: In 1979 Amos Tversky and Shmuel Sattach updated the elimination by aspects technique by presenting a more ordered and structured way of comparing the available alternatives. This technique compared the alternatives by presenting the aspects in a decided and sequential order. It became a more hierarchical system in which the aspects are ordered from general to specific [10]
  • Acquiesce to a person in authority or an "expert", just following orders
  • Flipism: Flipping a coin, cutting a deck of playing cards, and other random or coincidence methods
  • Prayer, tarot cards, astrology, augurs, revelation, or other forms of divination
  • Taking the most opposite action compared to the advice of mistrusted authorities (parents, police officers, partners ...)
  • Opportunity cost: calculating the opportunity cost of each options and decide the decision.
  • Bureaucratic: Set up criteria for automated decisions.
  • Political: Negotiate choices among interest groups.

An emerging need of using software for decision-making process is happening for individuals and businesses. This happens due to the complexity of many decions that have to be made today, and require to think of different stakeholders, categories, elements, or factors that impact high-level decisions.

  Decision-Making Stages

Developed by B. Aubrey Fisher, there are four stages that should be involved in all group decision making. These stages, or sometimes called phases, are important for the decision-making process to begin

Orientation stage- This phase is where members meet for the first time and start to get to know each other.

Conflict stage- Once group members become familiar with each other, disputes, little fights and arguments occur. Group members eventually work it out.

Emergence stage- The group begins to clear up vague opinions by talking about them.

Reinforcement stage- Members finally make a decision, while justifying themselves that it was the right decision.

It is said that critical norms in a group improves the quality of decisions, while the majority of opinions (called consensus norms) do not. This is due to collaboration between one another, and when group members get used to, and familiar with, each other, they will tend to argue and create more of a dispute to agree upon one decision. This does not mean that all group members fully agree—they may not want argue further just to be liked by other group members or to "fit in".[11]

  Decision-making steps

Each step in the decision making process may include social, cognitive and cultural obstacles to successfully negotiating dilemmas. It has been suggested that becoming more aware of these obstacles allows one to better anticipate and overcome them.[12] The Arkansas Program presents eight stages of moral decision making based on the work of James Rest:

  1. Establishing community: creating and nurturing the relationships, norms, and procedures that will influence how problems are understood and communicated. This stage takes place prior to and during a moral dilemma
  2. Perception: recognizing that a problem exists
  3. Interpretation: identifying competing explanations for the problem, and evaluating the drivers behind those interpretations
  4. Judgment: sifting through various possible actions or responses and determining which is more justifiable
  5. Motivation: examining the competing commitments which may distract from a more moral course of action and then prioritizing and committing to moral values over other personal, institutional or social values
  6. Action: following through with action that supports the more justified decision. Integrity is supported by the ability to overcome distractions and obstacles, developing implementing skills, and ego strength
  7. Reflection in action
  8. Reflection on action

When in an organization and faced with a difficult decision, there are several steps one can take to ensure the best possible solutions will be decided. These steps are put into seven effective ways to go about this decision making process (McMahon 2007).

The first step - Outline your goal and outcome. This will enable decision makers to see exactly what they are trying to accomplish and keep them on a specific path.

The second step - Gather data. This will help decision makers have actual evidence to help them come up with a solution.

The third step - Brainstorm to develop alternatives. Coming up with more than one solution enables you to see which one can actually work.

The fourth step - List pros and cons of each alternative. With the list of pros and cons, you can eliminate the solutions that have more cons than pros, making your decision easier.

The fifth step - Make the decision. Once you analyze each solution, you should pick the one that has many pros (or the pros that are most significant), and is a solution that everyone can agree with.

The sixth step - Immediately take action. Once the decision is picked, you should implement it right away.

The seventh step - Learn from, and reflect on the decision making. This step allows you to see what you did right and wrong when coming up, and putting the decision to use.

  Cognitive and personal biases

Biases can creep into our decision making processes. Many different people have made a decision about the same question (e.g. "Should I have a doctor look at this troubling breast cancer symptom I've discovered?" "Why did I ignore the evidence that the project was going over budget?") and then craft potential cognitive interventions aimed at improving decision making outcomes.

Below is a list of some of the more commonly debated cognitive biases.

  • Selective search for evidence (a.k.a. Confirmation bias in psychology) (Scott Plous, 1993) – We tend to be willing to gather facts that support certain conclusions but disregard other facts that support different conclusions. Individuals who are highly defensive in this manner show significantly greater left prefrontal cortex activity as measured by EEG than do less defensive individuals.[13]
  • Premature termination of search for evidence – We tend to accept the first alternative that looks like it might work.
  • Inertia – Unwillingness to change thought patterns that we have used in the past in the face of new circumstances.
  • Selective perception – We actively screen-out information that we do not think is important. (See prejudice.) In one demonstration of this effect, discounting of arguments with which one disagrees (by judging them as untrue or irrelevant) was decreased by selective activation of right prefrontal cortex.[14]
  • Wishful thinking or optimism bias – We tend to want to see things in a positive light and this can distort our perception and thinking.[15]
  • Choice-supportive bias occurs when we distort our memories of chosen and rejected options to make the chosen options seem more attractive.
  • Recency – We tend to place more attention on more recent information and either ignore or forget more distant information. (See semantic priming.) The opposite effect in the first set of data or other information is termed Primacy effect (Plous, 1993).
  • Repetition bias – A willingness to believe what we have been told most often and by the greatest number of different sources.
  • Anchoring and adjustment – Decisions are unduly influenced by initial information that shapes our view of subsequent information.
  • Group thinkPeer pressure to conform to the opinions held by the group.
  • Source credibility bias – We reject something if we have a bias against the person, organization, or group to which the person belongs: We are inclined to accept a statement by someone we like. (See prejudice.)
  • Incremental decision making and escalating commitment – We look at a decision as a small step in a process and this tends to perpetuate a series of similar decisions. This can be contrasted with zero-based decision making. (See slippery slope.)
  • Attribution asymmetry – We tend to attribute our success to our abilities and talents, but we attribute our failures to bad luck and external factors. We attribute other's success to good luck, and their failures to their mistakes.
  • Role fulfillment (Self Fulfilling Prophecy) – We conform to the decision making expectations that others have of someone in our position.
  • Underestimating uncertainty and the illusion of control – We tend to underestimate future uncertainty because we tend to believe we have more control over events than we really do. We believe we have control to minimize potential problems in our decisions.
  • Framing bias is best avoided by using numeracy with absolute measures of efficacy.[16]

Reference class forecasting was developed to eliminate or reduce cognitive biases in decision making.

  Post decision analysis

Evaluation and analysis of past decisions is complementary to decision making; see also mental accounting.

  Cognitive styles

  Influence of Briggs Myers type

According to behavioralist Isabel Briggs Myers, a person's decision making process depends to a significant degree on their cognitive style.[17] Myers developed a set of four bi-polar dimensions, called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The terminal points on these dimensions are: thinking and feeling; extroversion and introversion; judgment and perception; and sensing and intuition. She claimed that a person's decision making style correlates well with how they score on these four dimensions. For example, someone who scored near the thinking, extroversion, sensing, and judgment ends of the dimensions would tend to have a logical, analytical, objective, critical, and empirical decision making style. However, some psychologists say that the MBTI lacks reliability and validity and is poorly constructed.

Other studies suggest that these national or cross-cultural differences exist across entire societies. For example, Maris Martinsons has found that American, Japanese and Chinese business leaders each exhibit a distinctive national style of decision making.[18]

  Optimizing vs. satisficing

Herbert A. Simon coined the phrase "bounded rationality" to express the idea that human decision making is limited by available information, available time, and the information-processing ability of the mind. Simon also defined two cognitive styles: maximizers try to make an optimal decision, whereas satisficers simply try to find a solution that is "good enough". Maximizers tend to take longer making decisions due to the need to maximize performance across all variables and make tradeoffs carefully; they also tend to more often regret their decisions (perhaps because they are more able than satisficers to recognise that a decision turned out to be sub-optimal).[19]

  Combinatoral vs. positional

Styles and methods of decision making were elaborated by the founder of Predispositioning Theory, Aron Katsenelinboigen. In his analysis on styles and methods Katsenelinboigen referred to the game of chess, saying that “chess does disclose various methods of operation, notably the creation of predisposition—methods which may be applicable to other, more complex systems.”[20]

In his book Katsenelinboigen states that apart from the methods (reactive and selective) and sub-methods (randomization, predispositioning, programming), there are two major styles – positional and combinational. Both styles are utilized in the game of chess. According to Katsenelinboigen, the two styles reflect two basic approaches to the uncertainty: deterministic (combinational style) and indeterministic (positional style). Katsenelinboigen’s definition of the two styles are the following.

The combinational style is characterized by

  • a very narrow, clearly defined, primarily material goal, and
  • a program that links the initial position with the final outcome.

In defining the combinational style in chess, Katsenelinboigen writes:

The combinational style features a clearly formulated limited objective, namely the capture of material (the main constituent element of a chess position). The objective is implemented via a well-defined and in some cases in a unique sequence of moves aimed at reaching the set goal. As a rule, this sequence leaves no options for the opponent. Finding a combinational objective allows the player to focus all his energies on efficient execution, that is, the player’s analysis may be limited to the pieces directly partaking in the combination. This approach is the crux of the combination and the combinational style of play.[20]

The positional style is distinguished by

  • a positional goal and
  • a formation of semi-complete linkages between the initial step and final outcome.

“Unlike the combinational player, the positional player is occupied, first and foremost, with the elaboration of the position that will allow him to develop in the unknown future. In playing the positional style, the player must evaluate relational and material parameters as independent variables. ( … ) The positional style gives the player the opportunity to develop a position until it becomes pregnant with a combination. However, the combination is not the final goal of the positional player—it helps him to achieve the desirable, keeping in mind a predisposition for the future development. The Pyrrhic victory is the best example of one’s inability to think positionally.”[21]

The positional style serves to

a) create a predisposition to the future development of the position;
b) induce the environment in a certain way;
c) absorb an unexpected outcome in one’s favor;
d) avoid the negative aspects of unexpected outcomes.

Katsenelinboigen writes:
“As the game progressed and defense became more sophisticated the combinational style of play declined. . . . The positional style of chess does not eliminate the combinational one with its attempt to see the entire program of action in advance. The positional style merely prepares the transformation to a combination when the latter becomes feasible.”[22]

  Neuroscience perspective

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), orbitofrontal cortex (and the overlapping ventromedial prefrontal cortex) are brain regions involved in decision making processes. A recent neuroimaging study[23] found distinctive patterns of neural activation in these regions depending on whether decisions were made on the basis of personal volition or following directions from someone else. Patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex have difficulty making advantageous decisions.[24]

A recent study[25] of a Two-alternative forced choice task involving Rhesus monkeys found that neurons in the parietal cortex not only represent the formation of a decision but also signal the degree of certainty (or "confidence") associated with the decision. Another recent study[26] found that lesions to the ACC in the macaque resulted in impaired decision making in the long run of reinforcement guided tasks suggesting that the ACC may be involved in evaluating past reinforcement information and guiding future action.

Emotion appears to aid the decision making process: Decision making often occurs in the face of uncertainty about whether one's choices will lead to benefit or harm (see also Risk). The somatic-marker hypothesis is a neurobiological theory of how decisions are made in the face of uncertain outcome. This theory holds that such decisions are aided by emotions, in the form of bodily states, that are elicited during the deliberation of future consequences and that mark different options for behavior as being advantageous or disadvantageous. This process involves an interplay between neural systems that elicit emotional/bodily states and neural systems that map these emotional/bodily states.[27]

Although it is unclear whether the studies generalize to all processing, subconscious processes have been implicated in the initiation of conscious volitional movements. See the Neuroscience of free will.

  See also


  1. ^ James Reason (1990). Human Error. Ashgate. ISBN 1-84014-104-2. 
  2. ^ Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky (2000). Choice, Values, Frames. The Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62172-0. 
  3. ^ Triantaphyllou, E. (2000). Multi-Criteria Decision Making: A Comparative Study. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers (now Springer). pp. 320. ISBN 0-7923-6607-7. http://www.csc.lsu.edu/trianta/Books/DecisionMaking1/Book1.htm. 
  4. ^ Kepner, Charles H.; Tregoe, Benjamin B. (1965). The Rational Manager: A Systematic Approach to Problem Solving and Decision-Making. McGraw-Hill. 
  5. ^ Monahan, G. (2000). Management Decision Making. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 33–40. ISBN 0-521-78118-3. 
  6. ^ J. Scott Armstrong (2001). Principles of Forecasting: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners. Kluwer Academic Publishers. http://marketing.wharton.upenn.edu/documents/research/PoF-Role%20playing.pdf. 
  7. ^ http://www.virtualsalt.com/crebook6.htm
  8. ^ Batley, Richard; Daly, Andrew (October 2006). "On the equivalence between elimination-by-aspects and generalised extreme value models of choice behaviour". Journal of Mathematical Psychology 50 (5): 456–467. DOI:10.1016/j.jmp.2006.05.003. 
  9. ^ Tversky, Amos (July 1972). "Elimination by aspects: A theory of choice". Psychological Review 79 (4): 281–299. DOI:10.1037/h0032955. 
  10. ^ Tversky, Amos; Sattath, Shmuel (November 1979). "Preference trees". Psychological Review 86 (6): 542–573. DOI:10.1037/0033-295X.86.6.542. 
  11. ^ Postmes, T (2001). "Quality of decision making and group norms.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 80 (6): 918–930. DOI:10.1037/0022-3514.80.6.918. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/80/6/918/. 
  12. ^ The Role of Learning Theory in Building Effective College Ethics Curricula. Pijanowski. 2009, p.6. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
  13. ^ Blackhart, G. C.; Kline, J. P. (2005). "Individual differences in anterior EEG asymmetry between high and low defensive individuals during a rumination/distraction task". Personality and Individual Differences 39 (2): 427–437. DOI:10.1016/j.paid.2005.01.027. 
  14. ^ Drake, R. A. (1993). "Processing persuasive arguments: 2. Discounting of truth and relevance as a function of agreement and manipulated activation asymmetry". Journal of Research in Personality 27 (2): 184–196. DOI:10.1006/jrpe.1993.1013. 
  15. ^ Chua, E. F.; Rand-Giovannetti, E.; Schacter, D. L.; Albert, M.; Sperling, R. A. (2004). "Dissociating confidence and accuracy: Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows origins of the subjective memory experience". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 16 (7): 1131–1142. DOI:10.1162/0898929041920568. 
  16. ^ Perneger, T. V.; Agoritsas, T. (2011). "Doctors and Patients' Susceptibility to Framing Bias: A Randomized Trial.". J Gen Intern Med 26 (12): 1411–1417. DOI:10.1007/s11606-011-1810-x. PMID 21792695. 
  17. ^ Isabel Briggs Myers|Myers, I. (1962) Introduction to Type: A description of the theory and applications of the Myers-Briggs type indicator, Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto Ca., 1962.
  18. ^ Martinsons, Maris G., Comparing the Decision Styles of American, Chinese and Japanese Business Leaders. Best Paper Proceedings of Academy of Management Meetings, Washington, DC, August 2001 [1]
  19. ^ http://www.pri.org/science/science-behind-making-decisions1407.html
  20. ^ a b Katsenelinboigen, Aron. The Concept of Indeterminism and Its Applications: Economics, Social Systems, Ethics, Artificial Intelligence, and Aesthetics Praeger: Westport, Connecticut, 1997, p.6
  21. ^ V. Ulea, The Concept of Dramatic Genre and The Comedy of A New Type. Chess, Literature, and Film. Southern Illinois University Press, 2002, pp. 17–18
  22. ^ Selected Topics in Indeterministic Systems Intersystems Publications: California, 1989, p. 21
  23. ^ Interactions between decision making and performance monitoring within prefrontal cortex
  24. ^ Damasio, AR (1994). Descarte's Error: Emotion, reason and the human brain. New York: Picador. ISBN 0-333-65656-3. 
  25. ^ Roozbeh Kiani and Michael N. Shadlen, Representation of Confidence Associated with a Decision by Neurons in the Parietal Cortex
  26. ^ Kennerly, et al. (2006)
  27. ^ Nasir Naqvi, et al. "The Role of Emotion in Decision Making: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective", Current Directions in Psychological Science, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00448.x


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