ambivalent

adjective
am·​biv·​a·​lent | \ am-ˈbi-və-lənt How to pronounce ambivalent (audio) \

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

Synonyms

conflicted, equivocal

Antonyms

unambivalent

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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

While this may sound simple, Granik captures the essential, ambivalent truth of a relationship between a wounded loving man (Foster gets to be sympathetic for once) and a daughter who loves him back but needs to grow into her own life. John Powers, Vogue, "These Were 2018’s 12 Best Movies," 12 Dec. 2018 Mark seemed ambivalent at times urging Brett on and at times telling him to stop. Caroline Hallemann, Town & Country, "Read the Full Transcript of Christine Blasey Ford's Opening Statement at Brett Kavanaugh's Hearing," 27 Sep. 2018 The effect is ambivalent: Are the dark streaks meant to be read as tears, the result of the subject’s sorrow? William Meyers, WSJ, "‘Beyond Truth: Photography After the Shutter’ Review: The Ever-Evolving Image," 23 Feb. 2019 As to the future of the culture wars, Mr. Hunter is ambivalent. Jason Willick, WSJ, "The Man Who Discovered ‘Culture Wars’," 25 May 2018 Meanwhile, Danny is already feeling ambivalent about his power and questioning the long-term impact of his nightly patrols to keep the peace in Hell's Kitchen with Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) providing butt-kicking backup. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "New Iron Fist Season 2 trailer renews our hope for the Netflix series," 17 Aug. 2018 Mark seemed ambivalent, at times urging Brett on and at times telling him to stop. Fox News, "Christine Blasey Ford's full opening testimony," 27 Sep. 2018 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

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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Statistics for ambivalent

Last Updated

23 Apr 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ambivalent

The first known use of ambivalent was in 1909

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More Definitions for ambivalent

ambivalent

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of ambivalent

: having or showing very different feelings (such as love and hate) about someone or something at the same time

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