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

Essential Meaning of contentious

1 : likely to cause people to argue or disagree I think it's wise to avoid such a highly contentious [=controversial] topic/issue at a dinner party.
2 : involving a lot of arguing After a contentious debate, members of the committee finally voted to approve the funding. They have a contentious relationship. [=they argue with each other a lot]
3 : likely or willing to argue a contentious student The dispute involves one of the region's most contentious leaders.

Full 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

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 Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has promised to create such a commission to establish a common ground on contentious issues. NBC News, 29 Dec. 2021 Attorney general races have become far more contentious in recent years. Daniel Strauss, The New Republic, 29 Oct. 2021 The question of where and how the virus that causes COVID emerged has become particularly contentious, with some leaders blaming a hypothetical leak from a lab in Wuhan, China that studies the pathogens. Jason Gale, Fortune, 15 Sep. 2021 The Johansson versus Disney dispute has become particularly contentious. Meg James, Los Angeles Times, 21 Aug. 2021 All 73 Republicans in the state House signaled support for a special session last week, and a handful of school board meetings have become contentious as some parents fight mask mandates for their children. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 18 Aug. 2021 The question of where and whether to require masks has become increasingly contentious as the delta variant has surged in recent weeks. Alex Putterman,, 10 Aug. 2021 Furthermore, China's external economic relations have become contentious with a number of major partners, resulting in growing trade and investment barriers in both directions. David Dollar, CNN, 21 June 2021 The district attorney places conditions on some people, including electronic monitoring, which has become contentious among criminal justice experts who debate its efficacy. Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle, 1 Dec. 2021

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near contentious



contentious jurisdiction

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for contentious

Last Updated

12 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Contentious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on contentious

Nglish: Translation of contentious for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of contentious for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet pasta spelling help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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