con·​ten·​tious | \kən-ˈten(t)-shəs \

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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The contentious, abusive relationship between F.P. and his father. Christopher Rosa, Glamour, "Riverdale Season 3 Episode 4 Recap: All the Breakfast Club References," 7 Nov. 2018 By contrast Mrs Merkel gives priority to an array of less-contentious subjects, including better border controls, greater co-ordination of defence and more co-operation on education and research. The Economist, "The growing strains between Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron," 24 May 2018 One of the more contentious issues in the negotiations involves a U.S. push to require a certain amount of vehicle content be made by higher-wage workers, which effectively excludes Mexico. Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press, "With stakes high for auto industry, experts doubt NAFTA deal this week," 16 May 2018 The most recent court term has seen a host of contentious, high-stakes cases that have resulted in 5-4 decisions 17 times. Terrell Jermaine Starr, The Root, "We’re Fucked," 27 June 2018 Negotiations over the type, size and conditions of likely debt relief have been contentious, though all parties want to reach a final agreement by June 21, when euro-area finance ministers meet in Luxembourg. Viktoria Dendrinou,, "Greek Debt Talks: the Main Relief Measures Being Considered," 18 June 2018 So, in that way, discarding the rivets feels almost contentious—and potentially bad business. Cam Wolf, GQ, "3x1 Made Jeans for Our Candy-Ass 21st-Century Lifestyle," 25 May 2018 The Republican primary for attorney general, pitting state House members Frank White and Jay Fant and former Hillsborough County Judge Ashley Moody, has been more-contentious than the Democratic contest. Jim Turner,, "How Florida attorney general candidates stand on felon voting rights," 7 May 2018 On the new podcast, Chozick also talked about the Clinton family’s often-contentious history with her employer, the New York Times. Eric Johnson, Recode, "Amy Chozick’s book is about Hillary Clinton — and all the things reporters don’t write in their stories about Hillary Clinton," 3 May 2018

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.

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First Known Use of contentious

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for contentious

see contention

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Last Updated

12 Nov 2018

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

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English Language Learners Definition of contentious

: likely to cause people to argue or disagree

: involving a lot of arguing

: likely or willing to argue

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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).


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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