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 Japanese media are highly focused on the opening-day judokas, suggesting two golds could alter the public's highly ambivalent perception of these games. Greg Beacham, Star Tribune, 23 July 2021 Both had come to the Netherlands ambivalent about the sport and its archaic rules, only to be swept up in Amsterdam’s soccer culture. Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, 18 July 2021 But despite all the positives that come from his photography, Salgado remains ambivalent as to its power. Stefanie Blendis, CNN, 16 July 2021 Meanwhile, co-ops at $10 million and above languish, often for months, since the new generation of ultra-wealthy buyers feels ambivalent about the strictures placed around co-op ownership. Frederick Peters, Forbes, 22 June 2021 Like Gallup’s, Data for Progress’s results suggest that Black support for policing is deeply ambivalent. John Pfaff, The New Republic, 21 June 2021 Caught in the Web, from 2012, a non-ambivalent depiction of emotional complexity and regret in the age of social media. Armond White, National Review, 16 June 2021 The spread of modern architecture seems to have provoked ambivalent responses. Richard B. Woodward, WSJ, 16 June 2021 That play, by Lorraine Hansberry, has a title copped from a Langston Hughes poem about dreams deferred; the play ends on an accordingly ambivalent note. K. Austin Collins, Rolling Stone, 11 June 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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ambivalent feelings

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Last Updated

1 Aug 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ambivalent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Aug. 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

More from Merriam-Webster on ambivalent

Nglish: Translation of ambivalent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ambivalent for Arabic Speakers


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