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 His engagement was on the brink of breaking down, his finances were under strain and his ambivalent relationship with the tsar was becoming untenable. The Economist, "A quarantine rhapsody For Alexander Pushkin, lockdown was liberating," 6 June 2020 Xiong acknowledged that some in the Hmong community are ambivalent toward the Black Lives Matter movement, believing that black men dying at the hands of police is not an issue directly affecting Asian Americans. NBC News, "Hmong family whose son was shot by white officer speaking out in solidarity," 2 June 2020 Like other landlords, Coretrust is ambivalent about screening arrivals for fever by use of thermometers or more sophisticated thermal imaging devices. Roger Vincentstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Someday we’ll return to the office. It’ll be nothing like we’ve seen before," 8 May 2020 Was Everett ambivalent about how the novel should conclude? NBC News, "Percival Everett's 'Telephone' is a choose-your-own-adventure story without the choosing," 7 May 2020 Each member of the Lee family has a different reaction to their move, which captures some of these ambivalent anxieties. Christian Holub,, "Gene Luen Yang discusses Superman's battle against the KKK in new graphic novel," 13 May 2020 What’s affecting here is Lisicky’s preservation of a multitude of subtle, ambivalent feelings, of small kindnesses and cruelties. Lidija Haas, Harper's Magazine, "New Books," 27 Apr. 2020 This is moderation in a nutshell: a personality cult for the terminally ambivalent. John Patrick Leary, The New Republic, "The Airy Ambivalence of the Moderate Politician," 24 Apr. 2020 What’s affecting here is Lisicky’s preservation of a multitude of subtle, ambivalent feelings, of small kindnesses and cruelties. Lidija Haas, Harper's magazine, "New Books," 2 Mar. 2020

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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Time Traveler for ambivalent

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The first known use of ambivalent was in 1909

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Last Updated

25 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ambivalent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for ambivalent


How to pronounce ambivalent (audio)

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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