con·​ten·​tious | \ kən-ˈten(t)-shəs How to pronounce contentious (audio) \

Definition of contentious

1 : likely to cause disagreement or argument a contentious issue
2 : exhibiting an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes a man of a most contentious nature

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from contentious

contentiously adverb
contentiousness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for contentious

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 contentious in a Sentence

In the perpetual skirmish between science and religion, biological evolution is a contentious battle ground. — Barry A. Palevitz, Skeptical Inquirer, July/August 1999 Creator Jim Davis had spent two years fine-tuning the contentious relationship between the grouchy cat, his milquetoast owner, Jon (Davis' pen-and-ink alter ego), and befuddled dog Odie—in a strip he'd thought would be called Jon. — Beth Johnson, Entertainment Weekly, 19 June 1998 Historians, admittedly a contentious lot, have failed even to agree on what to call King Philip's War. — Jill Lepore, The Name of War, 1998 My mental attitude when drinking is both contentious and malicious, and while in this mood and state I was the author of statements which I know to be wholly unfounded. — Theodore Dreiser, The Titan, 1914 After a contentious debate, members of the committee finally voted to approve the funding. The dispute involves one of the region's most contentious leaders.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Iran’s expansionist policies in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon have been contentious at home among ordinary Iranians and some reformist politicians who saw money and resources diverted from Iran to fund General Suleimani’s missions. Tim Arango, New York Times, "Qassim Suleimani, Master of Iran’s Intrigue, Built a Shiite Axis of Power in Mideast," 3 Jan. 2020 Such negotiations are expected to be contentious and touch on the rights of women, free speech and changes to the Afghan constitution. Washington Post, "Trump faces raft of foreign policy challenges in new year," 30 Dec. 2019 Trump's time in Washington has been contentious at best. Emily Tillett, CBS News, "Ivanka Trump says staying in Washington will be up to her kids, cites "unfinished" work," 27 Dec. 2019 The court has also been contentious due to road funds being shifted to other precincts, slowing down road projects in both Precinct 3 and 4, and flood project equity has been a concern for citizens. Chevall Pryce, Houston Chronicle, "5 stories to watch in Cy-Fair and Klein in 2020," 26 Dec. 2019 The concern is long-term exposure, and the science around how much low-dose exposure increases the risk of cancer and other illnesses is contentious. Carolyn Kormann, The New Yorker, "Is Nuclear Power Worth the Risk?," 22 Dec. 2019 The period during Green’s tenure as interim president was contentious, as the university navigated financial instability and dropping enrollment, as well as rotating leadership. Emily Bamforth, cleveland, "Former University of Akron interim president, Bliss Institute director, to retire after more than 30 years," 11 Dec. 2019 The power to reorganize education boards has recently been contentious in Kentucky. Ben Tobin, The Courier-Journal, "Newly ousted members of Kentucky Board of Education will sue Gov. Andy Beshear," 10 Dec. 2019 Facial recognition technologies everywhere are contentious. Robert Hackett, Fortune, "Why I Opt Out of Facial Recognition," 4 Dec. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'contentious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of contentious

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for contentious

Middle English contenciose "quarrelsome," borrowed from Middle French & Latin; Middle French contencieux "subject to disagreement," borrowed from Latin contentiōsus "persistent, obstinate, argumentative, quarrelsome," from contentiō "exertion, competition, contention" + -ōsus -ous

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about contentious

Time Traveler for contentious

Time Traveler

The first known use of contentious was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about contentious

Statistics for contentious

Last Updated

8 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Contentious.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 21 January 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for contentious


How to pronounce contentious (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of contentious

: likely to cause people to argue or disagree
: involving a lot of arguing
: likely or willing to argue

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on contentious

What made you want to look up contentious? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


good-natured easy friendliness

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Intact Latin Quiz

  • roman tablet
  • What did focus mean in Latin?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!