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

Other Words from ambivalent

ambivalently adverb
He spoke ambivalently about his military experiences.

Synonyms & Antonyms for ambivalent

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The words ambivalent and ambivalence entered English during the early 20th century in the field of psychology. They came to us through the International Scientific Vocabulary, a set of words common to people of science who speak different languages. The prefix ambi- means "both," and the -valent and -valence parts ultimately derive from the Latin verb valēre, meaning "to be strong." Not surprisingly, an ambivalent person is someone who has strong feelings on more than one side of a question or issue.

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 Others, such as Michael Harris, a mathematician at Columbia, are ambivalent. John Horgan, Scientific American, 7 July 2022 Nio is contesting that action but bad news has had a persistent way of sticking to the Chinese auto maker and analysts are ambivalent about prospects for share price recovery any time soon. Mark Faithfull, Forbes, 7 July 2022 Science fiction has often been ambivalent about the future. Washington Post, 14 June 2022 Instead, more people became ambivalent than before. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 19 May 2022 The right one can banish the ambivalent scent of body wash and pod coffee and imbue your cubicle and conference room with a sense of intention. Justin Fenner, Robb Report, 18 May 2022 As a result, Gill felt ambivalent about changing her eating and drinking habits. Washington Post, 4 Nov. 2021 Leonie and her family would likely not share the film’s more ambivalent take on the influencer economy. Ben Croll, Variety, 1 Apr. 2022 The only problem was that part of the population was more ambivalent. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 24 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of ambivalent

1912, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ambivalent

borrowed from German, from ambi- ambi- + -valent, in äquivalent equivalent

Note: The German term was introduced, along with Ambivalenz ambivalence, by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939) in "Zur Theorie des schizophrenen Negativismus," Psychiatrisch-Neurologische Wochenschrift, Band 12, Nr. 18 (July 30, 1910), p. 171.

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The first known use of ambivalent was in 1912

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Last Updated

1 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Ambivalent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ambivalent. Accessed 11 Aug. 2022.

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