an·​tag·​o·​nism an-ˈta-gə-ˌni-zəm How to pronounce antagonism (audio)
: opposition of a conflicting force, tendency, or principle
the antagonism of democracy to dictatorship
: actively expressed opposition or hostility
antagonism between factions
personal antagonism
: opposition in physiological action
especially : interaction of two or more substances such that the action of any one of them on living cells or tissues is lessened
Choose the Right Synonym for antagonism

enmity, hostility, antipathy, antagonism, animosity, rancor, animus mean deep-seated dislike or ill will.

enmity suggests positive hatred which may be open or concealed.

an unspoken enmity

hostility suggests an enmity showing itself in attacks or aggression.

hostility between the two nations

antipathy and antagonism imply a natural or logical basis for one's hatred or dislike, antipathy suggesting repugnance, a desire to avoid or reject, and antagonism suggesting a clash of temperaments leading readily to hostility.

a natural antipathy for self-seekers
antagonism between the brothers

animosity suggests intense ill will and vindictiveness that threaten to kindle hostility.

animosity that led to revenge

rancor is especially applied to bitter brooding over a wrong.

rancor filled every line of his letters

animus adds to animosity the implication of strong prejudice.

objections devoid of personal animus

Examples of antagonism in a Sentence

The region has a long history of ethnic antagonisms. the antagonism between them was so bad they couldn't even sit near each other
Recent Examples on the Web There are other forms of antagonism, too, deeply embedded in the infrastructure of everyday life. Clare Egan, Longreads, 13 Feb. 2024 In a fragile democracy plagued by conflict, elections can crystallize antagonisms; peace or violence during an election reflects the nature of political participation and can serve as a prism through which to understand the progress of nation-building efforts. Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, Foreign Affairs, 19 Jan. 2024 Largely, a culture of antagonism toward regulators at Cruise helped contribute to these failings. Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, 25 Jan. 2024 The antagonism stretches back centuries to Ottoman Turkey’s reign over Greece, which ended in the early 19th century. Safak Timur, New York Times, 7 Dec. 2023 Some analysts also hope that Mr. Xi will find a way to claim victory in the election and step back from antagonism. Damien Cave, New York Times, 13 Jan. 2024 President Joe Biden has left Trump’s tariffs largely intact, signaling that economic antagonism toward China enjoys bipartisan support and will remain the United States’ position for the foreseeable future. Gordon H. Hanson, Foreign Affairs, 12 Dec. 2023 The antagonism is baked into railroad culture, ProPublica found. Topher Sanders, ProPublica, 16 Dec. 2023 But with mutual distrust running deep, any easing of antagonism between the two sides could be tenuous. Chris Buckley, New York Times, 13 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'antagonism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


see antagonize

First Known Use

1716, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of antagonism was in 1716

Dictionary Entries Near antagonism

Cite this Entry

“Antagonism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


an·​tag·​o·​nism an-ˈtag-ə-ˌniz-əm How to pronounce antagonism (audio)
: a state of being opposed to something or unfriendly toward someone

Medical Definition


an·​tag·​o·​nism an-ˈtag-ə-ˌniz-əm How to pronounce antagonism (audio)
: opposition in physiological action:
: opposing action in the effect of contraction of muscles (as the extensors and flexors of a part)
: interaction of two or more substances such that the action of any one of them on living cells or tissues is lessened (as by interference with the uptake or by an opposing physiological reaction) compare synergism

More from Merriam-Webster on antagonism

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