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 Predictably, right-wing media jumped on the small rules change as a belligerent affront to the gender binary that some lawmakers, including Greene and Representative Lauren Boebert, sought to reinforce with actual legislation. Pablo Manríquez, The New Republic, 10 Jan. 2023 But some protesters were uncomfortable with more belligerent slogans. Reuters, NBC News, 29 Nov. 2022 Facing a belligerent patron at the Royal Farms convenience store on Washington Boulevard near Carroll Park in Southwest Baltimore early Sunday, security guard Kanisha Spence drew her 9 mm handgun. Darcy Costello, Baltimore Sun, 1 Nov. 2022 For proof that productive conversations on social media are rare, look no further than antagonistic Twitter threads and long-winded, belligerent Facebook comments. Time, 26 Oct. 2022 The body of a belligerent woman is found among the Halloween decorations on the front yard of Miriam’s Coral Shores home. Sun Sentinel, 5 Oct. 2022 His belligerent taxi-driver was still parked there, waiting out the storm perhaps, or too busy yelling at his father to look for his next fare. Nicole Krauss, The New Yorker, 26 Sep. 2022 Remarque had made war itself — not the soldiers of the belligerent nations — the common enemy of all mankind. Thomas Doherty, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 Sep. 2022 Political violence can also be made more palatable by couching it as defensive action against a belligerent enemy. Alan Feuer, New York Times, 13 Aug. 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 7 Feb. 2023.

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


1 of 2 adjective
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 noun
: a belligerent nation, state, or person

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