am·​biv·​a·​lent | \-lənt \

Definition of ambivalent 

: having or showing simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward something or someone : characterized by ambivalence … people whose relationship to their job is ambivalent, conflicted.— Terrence Rafferty Americans are deeply ambivalent about the country's foreign role. Isolationist yearnings coexist uneasily with superpower policies.— David P. Calleo

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Other Words from ambivalent

ambivalently adverb
He spoke ambivalently about his military experiences.

Synonyms & Antonyms for ambivalent


conflicted, equivocal



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Ambiguous vs. Ambivalent

The difficulty that many people have in distinguishing between ambiguous and ambivalent shows that all that is needed to create confusion with words is to begin them with several of the same letters. In spite of the fact that these two words have histories, meanings, and origins that are fairly distinct, people often worry about mistakenly using one for the other.

Dating to the 16th century, ambiguous is quite a bit older than ambivalent, which appears to have entered English in the jargon of early 20th-century psychologists. Both words are in some fashion concerned with duality: ambivalent relates to multiple and contradictory feelings, whereas ambiguous often describes something with several possible meanings that create uncertainty.

The words’ etymologies offer some help in distinguishing between them. Their shared prefix, ambi-, means "both." The -valent in ambivalent comes from the Late Latin valentia ("power") and, in combination with ambi-, suggests the pull of two different emotions. The -guous in ambiguous, on the other hand, comes ultimately from Latin agere ("to drive, to lead"); paired with ambi-, it suggests movement in two directions at once, and hence, a wavering or uncertainty.

Examples of ambivalent in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The Trump administration has offered an ambivalent response to Khashoggi’s murder. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée turns down White House invite," 27 Oct. 2018 The hesitant, awkward shuffling that once defined his actors’ speech patterns hasn’t necessarily gone away; it’s simply been absorbed into the spirit of the movie, which surveys its milieu and genre with a thoughtful, ambivalent eye. Justin Chang, The Seattle Times, "‘Support the Girls’: Regina Hall calls the shots in terrific sports-bar comedy," 27 Aug. 2018 The president's grip on his base seems as strong as ever, although ambivalent Republicans could always opt to stay home. Howard Kurtz, Fox News, "Trump probes cast shadow on midterms, but control still up for grabs," 24 Aug. 2018 While unions work to win over ambivalent members, organizers are also exploring ways that liberal state governments can help fund the labor movement. Josh Eidelson,, "The Supreme Court Case That Could Devastate Unions," 22 Feb. 2018 One of the most intriguing parts of Burnham's character during the first half of the season was her ambivalent relationship with her adoptive father Sarek. Annalee Newitz, Ars Technica, "Star Trek: Discovery ends the season with a bang (and a whimper)," 13 Feb. 2018 Rafael Nadal is ambivalent about playing on grass especially after a long and successful clay court season that ended with another French Open title. John Clarke, New York Times, "For Wimbledon’s Grass, It’s Not Easy Being Green," 30 June 2018 Uglev detailed his deadly and secretive work, recalling how Kremlin leaders and the military were ambivalent about the chemical weapons program and eventually came to see it as burdensome and costly. Vladimir Isachenkov,, "Russian says secret Cold War lab developed poison used in England," 23 Apr. 2018 Uglev detailed his deadly and secretive work, recalling how Kremlin leaders and the military were ambivalent about the chemical weapons program and eventually came to see it as burdensome and costly. Washington Post, "A Cold War poison resurfaces in a quiet English town," 23 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ambivalent.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ambivalent

1909, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ambivalent

International Scientific Vocabulary

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Last Updated

19 Nov 2018

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The first known use of ambivalent was in 1909

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to make faulty or ineffective

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