bel·​lig·​er·​ent bə-ˈlij-rənt How to pronounce belligerent (audio)
: inclined to or exhibiting assertiveness, hostility, or combativeness
: waging war
specifically : belonging to or recognized as a state at war and protected by and subject to the laws of war
belligerent noun
belligerently adverb

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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.

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

Example Sentences

… 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 player became quite belligerent and was thrown out of the game See More
Recent Examples on the Web What some folks might not have noticed going on at the same time was Cardinals left guard Justin Pugh engaging with a belligerent Raiders fan on the other side of the field at Allegiant Stadium. Bob Mcmanaman, The Arizona Republic, 22 Sep. 2022 After being refused by the employee, the suspect became belligerent. Cheryl Higley, cleveland, 25 June 2022 Perhaps the strangest twist of all: the country of Belarus, Russia’s co-belligerent in the assault on Ukraine, just offered the United States baby formula. Rita Numerof, Forbes, 10 June 2022 As strange as the content gets, what makes the show so endearing is the Schiefers’ rapport, their palpable bewilderment at the opinions expressed, and their compassion for the service workers forced to deal with belligerent customers. New York Times, 28 June 2022 President Xi Jinping has aligned his nation with Russia in the fight over Ukraine while at the same time making increasingly belligerent moves toward Taiwan, the island that claims independence but that China considers its own. Eli Stokols, Los Angeles Times, 24 June 2022 As if America and Pelosi are the problem, and not the despotic, expansionist, belligerent government in Beijing. Matthew Continetti, National Review, 30 July 2022 To completely and utterly violate a woman’s personal images and information for the masochistic entertainment of belligerent men. Andy Meek, BGR, 28 July 2022 As strange as the content gets, what makes the show so endearing is the Schiefers’ rapport, their palpable bewilderment at the opinions expressed, and their compassion for the service workers forced to deal with belligerent customers. Emma Dibdin,, 3 July 2022 See More

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1577, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of belligerent was in 1577

Dictionary Entries Near belligerent

Cite this Entry

“Belligerent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition



bel·​lig·​er·​ent bə-ˈlij(-ə)-rənt How to pronounce belligerent (audio)
: waging war
belligerent nations
: eager to or showing eagerness to fight
belligerent remarks
belligerent noun
belligerently adverb

Legal Definition

belligerent 1 of 2


bel·​lig·​er·​ent bə-ˈli-jə-rənt How to pronounce belligerent (audio)
: waging war : carrying on war
specifically : belonging to or recognized as an organized military power protected by and subject to the laws of war
: inclined to or exhibiting hostility or a combative temperament


2 of 2


: a belligerent nation, state, or person

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