con·​ten·​tious kən-ˈten(t)-shəs How to pronounce contentious (audio)
: likely to cause disagreement or argument
a contentious issue
: exhibiting an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes
a man of a most contentious nature
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.
Recent Examples on the Web The case began on May 24, 2019, when Jennifer Dulos, a Connecticut mother of five, disappeared amid a contentious custody dispute with her estranged husband, Fotis Dulos. Emily Shapiro, ABC News, 31 May 2024 During August 2023 child support hearings in her contentious divorce from the Oscar winner, Baumgartner's legal team dismissed rumors of a romance between her and Connor. Jack Smart, Peoplemag, 30 May 2024 Gálvez, of the opposition coalition, has signaled her intention to scale back the Mexican military’s contentious and growing role. Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, 30 May 2024 The couple had a quite contentious divorce, according to court records. Charles Rabin, Miami Herald, 23 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for contentious 

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near contentious

Cite this Entry

“Contentious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


con·​ten·​tious kən-ˈten-chəs How to pronounce contentious (audio)
: inclined to argue
contentiousness noun

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