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

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 Yet for all its flaws, the May plan is born of the political reality that British voters remain ambivalent about Brexit because no one has offered a convincing vision of how an independent Britain can work outside the EU. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Moment of Truth for Brexit," 9 July 2018 Even Canada, which is now governed by an internationalist and generally pro-global justice government, remains ambivalent about the ICC’s role or whether accountability for the deaths of civilians should be pursued. Mark Kersten, Washington Post, "Can the International Criminal Court investigate the violence in Gaza?," 17 May 2018 Satbir Singh of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, a charity, is ambivalent. The Economist, "Britain’s Windrush mess revives support for ID cards," 3 May 2018 Oakley is ambivalent, the West End is driving a hard bargain. Paul Daugherty,, "Doc: Bengals' Cordy Glenn deal a fan-friendly upgrade; FC Cincinnati making its case," 13 Mar. 2018 Historically, Indiana has been somewhat ambivalent toward environmental enforcement, said David M. Uhlmann, an environmental law and policy professor at University of Michigan Law School. Brian Slodysko, Houston Chronicle, "Pence family gas stations left costly environmental legacy," 13 July 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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ambivalent feelings

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Last Updated

24 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for ambivalent

The first known use of ambivalent was in 1909

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one that holds something together

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