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 The bellicose proposals reflect widespread Republican outrage over immigration, as well as the ongoing crisis of opioid deaths. Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, 12 Sep. 2023 And like so many inhabitants of this bellicose, burning planet, Gilman worries about its survival if people cannot find a way to coexist and cooperate, at the most intimate local level and beyond. Laura Collins-Hughes, New York Times, 7 Sep. 2023 Those medieval exchanges between Roman pope and Mongolian khan were full of bellicose demands for submission and conversion, with each side claiming to be acting in the name of God, according to texts of the letters that survive. The Salt Lake Tribune, 30 Aug. 2023 Leaders of groups like the Proud Boys and the Three Percenter militia movement also started to whip up members with bellicose language, and their private messaging channels were increasingly filled with plans to rush to Trump’s aid. Maggie Haberman,, 18 Mar. 2023 This has given the island the best hope for solidifying a defense in the face of increasingly bellicose calls by Beijing to take Taiwan by force. Paul Mozur, New York Times, 2 Apr. 2023 The king’s bellicose missteps demonstrated his fatal misreading of his subjects’ needs, desires and resolve. Charles Arrowsmith, Washington Post, 30 June 2023 Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual defense forum in Singapore held over the weekend, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin portrayed China as an increasingly bellicose force in the Asia Pacific, saying Chinese military activity around Taiwan threatens to destabilize the region. Keith Zhai and Alastair Gale, WSJ, 16 June 2022 Just as Moscow has justified its war in Ukraine as a response to a foreign military threat emanating from a neighboring country, so Washington justified its bellicose and potentially calamitous reaction to Soviet missiles in Cuba. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 3 May 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 28 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

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