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

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 player became quite belligerent and was thrown out of the game
Recent Examples on the Web Parler provided a view into the radical side of social media — the network has hosted hate speech, misinformation and calls for violence — that resulted in chatbots that were more extreme and belligerent than the original version. Jeremy White, New York Times, 20 May 2024 Unfortunately, some communities are home to owners who thrive on creating disruption and fostering hostile meetings by yelling and becoming belligerent. Gabriella M. Ruiz, Miami Herald, 13 May 2024 Users posted clips highlighting belligerent questions from lawmakers. Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times, 3 May 2024 Optimism about possible gains on the battlefield often reduces a belligerent’s interest in making compromises at the negotiating table. Samuel Charap, Foreign Affairs, 16 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for belligerent 

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

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 13 Jun. 2024.

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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