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

Example Sentences

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 There’s no changes to Medicaid, according to the source, which was previously a contentious point in the negotiations. Elizabeth Both, NBC News, 29 May 2023 The politically contentious case fueled national debates in the wake of the overturning of Roe V. Wade last summer. USA TODAY, 26 May 2023 Conversations in the classroom about gender identity and sexuality have become contentious between school systems and parents across the country. Nicole Asbury, Washington Post, 26 May 2023 State funding for Alaska’s rural schools, in particular, has long been contentious. Sean Maguire, Anchorage Daily News, 26 May 2023 The question of whether Pride events should prominently feature a police presence has long been a contentious one within the LGBTQ community, which has faced decades of violence and harassment from police. Miles Klee, Rolling Stone, 24 May 2023 Hearings dealing with other contentious issues like gun control and voucher-like bills have also lasted late into the evening this session. Lauren Mcgaughy, Dallas News, 5 May 2023 Hailey stuck around after the contentious meeting and despite the division on display, found some inspiration in the community, too. Ryan Fonseca, Los Angeles Times, 2 May 2023 That move proved hugely contentious, with many investors exploring legal options even after the Swiss government maintained the move was within its rights under the securities’ contract. Marion Halftermeyer, Fortune, 24 Apr. 2023 See More

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 3 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

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