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



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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 But on closer look, the story’s message is ambivalent. Daniel Engber, The Atlantic, 11 June 2021 Presidents of both parties have historically been ambivalent about IGs, because these watchdogs often reveal truths that are politically inconvenient or damaging to a sitting administration. Andrew Lautz, National Review, 10 June 2021 That, in turn, could well incite Palestinians in Jordan, who are ambivalent about the Hashemite monarchy’s legitimacy and impatient with its peace treaty with Israel. Bernard Avishai, The New Yorker, 21 May 2021 The Trump White House has taken an ambivalent approach to the ethics rules and norms that guided past administrations. Matthew Daly, Star Tribune, 3 Sep. 2020 At a Smart & Final in Alhambra, shopper Benny Fong, 60, came masked and fully vaccinated for a sale on seedless watermelons and was ambivalent about the policy. Los Angeles Times, 15 May 2021 Politics, far from being, in Hannah Arendt’s conception, the source of human freedom—which includes the freedom to be silent, obscure, ambivalent, or defiant—becomes nothing more than identity, which in turn is nothing more than power relations. Thomas Chatterton Williams, Harper's Magazine, 16 Mar. 2021 But if this is a race to the bottom, most national capitals are conspicuously ambivalent about winning. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 8 Apr. 2021 The fiction writers who appear — among them Tobias Wolff, Mario Vargas Llosa, Edna O’Brien and Abraham Verghese — are somber and sometimes ambivalent about Hemingway’s work. Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times, 5 Apr. 2021

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

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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Time Traveler for ambivalent

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The first known use of ambivalent was in 1912

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Last Updated

14 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ambivalent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for ambivalent



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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