bel·​li·​cose ˈbe-li-ˌkōs How to pronounce bellicose (audio)
: favoring or inclined to start quarrels or wars
bellicosity noun

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Don't War Over the Meaning of Bellicose

Since bellicose describes an attitude that hopes for actual war, the word is generally applied to nations and their leaders. In the 20th century, it was commonly used to describe such figures as Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm, Italy's Benito Mussolini, and Japan's General Tojo, leaders who believed their countries had everything to gain by starting wars. The international relations of a nation with a bellicose foreign policy tend to be stormy and difficult, and bellicosity usually makes the rest of the world very uneasy.

Choose the Right Synonym for bellicose

belligerent, bellicose, pugnacious, quarrelsome, contentious mean having an aggressive or fighting attitude.

belligerent often implies being actually at war or engaged in hostilities.

belligerent nations

bellicose suggests a disposition to fight.

a drunk in a bellicose mood

pugnacious suggests a disposition that takes pleasure in personal combat.

a pugnacious gangster

quarrelsome stresses an ill-natured readiness to fight without good cause.

the heat made us all quarrelsome

contentious implies perverse and irritating fondness for arguing and quarreling.

wearied by his contentious disposition

Examples of bellicose in a Sentence

Never in peacetime, perhaps, have the statements of our government officials been more relentlessly bellicose. Yet their actions have been comparatively cautious. New Yorker, 24 June 1985
For three centuries Viking raiders haunted western Europe. The bellicose Charlemagne himself felt menaced. Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers, 1983
His evident calm, which always infuriated the opposition, must have irritated the bellicose colonel to a point at which he could control himself no longer. Michael Pearson, Those Damned Rebels, 1972
bellicose hockey players who seem to spend more time fighting than playing
Recent Examples on the Web Although these elections have been shambolic, pre-polling indicated Tshisekedi had strong support after running a highly populist, nationalist campaign peppered with bellicose speeches aimed at neighboring Rwanda. Katharine Houreld, Washington Post, 31 Dec. 2023 This is not a permission slip to act as bellicose jerks or hypocritical scoundrels. Andrew T. Walker, National Review, 31 Dec. 2023 But not without a preemptive visit to one of Trey’s bellicose Civil War reenactments, because apparently things were not sufficiently eccentric. Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times, 6 Oct. 2023 Even until his passing, Kissinger maintained a relatively less hawkish stance on U.S.-China relations when compared to the latest bellicose rhetoric on the hill in Washington, believing that such antagonistic relations would be bad for both superpowers and the world. Michael Sheldrick, Forbes, 30 Nov. 2023 China’s military advantage over the rest of the region is widening, and Beijing is becoming more bellicose in its territorial disputes with several of its neighbors. John Lee, Foreign Affairs, 21 Nov. 2023 Tucked around behind the wall are two side-by-side video projections, one showing the football game and the other a frenzied, bellicose crowd. Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times, 15 Nov. 2023 Under Brad Smith, the company’s president and de facto head of government relations, Microsoft has built deep relationships in Washington and painted itself as a responsible corporate citizen that has shed its bellicose reputation. David McCabe, New York Times, 13 Oct. 2023 No bellicose rhetoric could obscure the fact that existing nuclear stockpiles were enough to destroy mankind. . . . Henry A. Kissinger, Foreign Affairs, 13 Oct. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English, from Latin bellicosus, from bellicus of war, from bellum war

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of bellicose was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near bellicose

Cite this Entry

“Bellicose.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


bel·​li·​cose ˈbel-ə-ˌkōs How to pronounce bellicose (audio)
: likely to quarrel or fight
bellicosity noun

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