bel·lig·er·ent | \ bə-ˈlij-rənt , -ˈli-jə- \

Definition of belligerent 

1 : inclined to or exhibiting assertiveness, hostility, or combativeness

2 : waging war specifically : belonging to or recognized as a state at war and protected by and subject to the laws of war

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Other words from belligerent

belligerent noun
belligerently adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for belligerent

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

belligerent, belligerents, and belligerence

Belligerent may function as either an adjective or a noun. As an adjective, it has two primary meanings, each of which corresponds to the two senses of its noun form.

The older sense (“waging war”) is generally used to refer to the actions or combatants of a nation at war, or to the nation itself ("belligerent operations"; "belligerent troops"; “the belligerent state”); it is paralleled by the earliest sense of the noun, “a nation at war” (“the belligerents assembled at the peace conference”). The second sense of belligerent (“inclined to or exhibiting assertiveness, hostility, or combativeness”), which usually applies to persons or animals, or to their attitudes or actions, likewise parallels the second sense of the noun (“a person taking part in a fight”). A related noun belligerence refers to “an aggressive or truculent attitude, atmosphere, or disposition” that can be either individual or global.

Examples of belligerent in a Sentence

… it took very little alcohol to make him belligerent, and he became even more thuggish and incoherent when he threw in a few sleeping pills as well. —Christopher Hitchens, New York Times Book Review, 8 Oct. 2000 Coots are belligerent, territorial, quick-tempered birds. Nothing irritates a coot like another coot … —Kenneth Brower, Smithsonian, December 1998 Instead, we revered the guys on the streets, the thugs who were brazen and belligerent. They wore their hats backwards, left their belt buckles unfastened and shoelaces untied. —Nathan McCall, Washington Post, 25-31 Mar. 1991 She was a brigantine, a small two-masted vessel, refitted for belligerent action in the newly created American Navy. —Barbara W. Tuchman, The First Salute, 1988 He was drunk and belligerent. the coach became quite belligerent and spit at an umpire after being thrown out of the game
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Recent Examples on the Web

Prime Minister Theresa May isn’t the only U.K. political leader with a party that’s divided and increasingly belligerent over Europe. Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour is in a similar bind. Thomas Penny,, "‘Disingenuous’ and ‘Insulted’: Labour’s Brexit Divisions Exposed," 14 June 2018 Allies may find Mattis’ words soothing, said Penn’s Orenstein, but his reassurances are undercut by Trump’s belligerent tweets and frequent policy swings. Jonathan Tamari,, "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis strives to be a reassuring voice to allies in a chaotic time," 10 June 2018 Since that video went viral, two men have come forward with other stories about Schlossberg becoming belligerent in public. Eric Levenson, CNN, "New York attorney in racist rant has history of confrontations," 17 May 2018 These erupted against Japanese businesses in 2012 and against a South Korean supermarket chain last year, both preceded by belligerent signalling in state propaganda. The Economist, "In its trade war with America, China dials down the hype," 12 July 2018 By the end of his time as president, Obama was dealing with a belligerent and fully Republican-controlled Congress. Luke Darby, GQ, "Is There a Better Way Forward Than Abolishing ICE?," 27 June 2018 When advised of warrant, the woman became extremely belligerent with officers. Julie A. Short/special To,, "Resident fall victim to Craigslist scam: Bay Village Police Blotter," 10 May 2018 With language reaching belligerent levels seldom heard since the 2016 campaign, Republican tactics seemed aimed at least in part at activating loyal supporters for the midterm elections. Washington Post, "Tempers raised by immigration issue give way to insults," 26 June 2018 With language reaching belligerent levels seldom heard since the 2016 campaign, Republican tactics seemed aimed at least in part at activating loyal supporters for the midterm elections. Jonathan Lemire, The Seattle Times, "Insults and rancor: Dems risk treading on Trump’s home field," 25 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'belligerent.' 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 belligerent

1577, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for belligerent

modification of Latin belligerant-, belligerans, present participle of belligerare to wage war, from belliger waging war, from bellum war + gerere to wage

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Last Updated

11 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for belligerent

The first known use of belligerent was in 1577

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More Definitions for belligerent



English Language Learners Definition of belligerent

: angry and aggressive : feeling or showing readiness to fight

: fighting a war : engaged in a war


bel·lig·er·ent | \ bə-ˈli-jə-rənt \

Kids Definition of belligerent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : carrying on war belligerent nations

2 : feeling or showing readiness to fight belligerent remarks a belligerent stranger



Kids Definition of belligerent (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : a nation at war

2 : a person taking part in a fight


bel·lig·er·ent | \ bə-ˈli-jə-rənt \

Legal Definition of belligerent 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : waging war : carrying on war specifically : belonging to or recognized as an organized military power protected by and subject to the laws of war

2 : inclined to or exhibiting hostility or a combative temperament



Legal Definition of belligerent (Entry 2 of 2)

: a belligerent nation, state, or person

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