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


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 musical Hamilton does the same thing in its ambivalent dynamic of denouncing slavery’s iniquities while suggesting that its own protagonists were exempt from them. Sarah Churchwell, The New York Review of Books, "‘The Lehman Trilogy’ and Wall Street’s Debt to Slavery," 11 June 2019 She will be remembered for her outspoken and ambivalent sense of humor that always had everyone in the room full of laughter., "Beverly Ronewicz," 28 June 2019 But the film — much like its ambivalent protagonist — never really picks a side, at least not convincingly. Pat Padua, Twin Cities, "In comedy about cheating, cheap laughs overwhelm ‘Being Frank’," 27 June 2019 But the film – much like its ambivalent protagonist – never really picks a side, at least not convincingly. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "Review: Instead of funny and fresh, ‘Being Frank’ feels forced, awkward," 20 June 2019 Experts, though, remain ambivalent over his plan’s ability to get a substantial number of women to use the Metro or buses that criss-cross the national capital every day. Kuwar Singh, Quartz India, "Can a free pass get more Delhi women to use public transport?," 4 June 2019 Labour and its left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, have been ambivalent over Brexit. Max Colchester, WSJ, "Labour to Weigh Second Brexit Referendum if U.K.-EU Talks Collapse," 25 Sep. 2018 Leadership ambitions The opposition Labour Party, which is ambivalent on Brexit but has made much political capital out of staunchly defending the NHS, enthusiastically jumped on Trump’s reference to the subject. David Meyer, Fortune, "There's One Subject in the U.K. That's as Toxic as Brexit. Trump Just Waded Into It," 4 June 2019 Mark, who later founded a software company, played quarterback and defensive end at Damien High in La Verne, Ca., and rooted for the Steelers; Kym, a lawyer, was a cheerleader but ambivalent about the game. Greg Bishop,, "A College QB's Suicide. A Family's Search for Answers.," 26 June 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

16 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for ambivalent

The first known use of ambivalent was in 1909

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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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