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

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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 issue has been contentious because tasting rooms account for a large share of income for many California wineries, especially small ones. Esther Mobley,, "Is it worth it to go wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma amid coronavirus?," 24 June 2020 In 2018, the dinner turned contentious when then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders became the butt of some controversial jokes by comedian Michelle Wolf. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner, "2020 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner canceled over coronavirus concerns," 23 June 2020 At a contentious meeting Tuesday, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court voted to continue a program that allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Allie Morris, Dallas News, "Controversial immigration enforcement agreement with ICE extended in Tarrant County," 17 June 2020 The order is expected to avoid many contentious issues, including the question of whether police officers should continue to enjoy legal protections from civil lawsuits. Editors, USA TODAY, "Trump's executive order, Melania book, travel within Hawaii: 5 things to know Tuesday," 16 June 2020 But if the recent protest was peaceful, the county takeover of the Camden Police Department was contentious. Maryclaire Dale, The Christian Science Monitor, "Ice cream and barbecues: How Camden reimagined its police.," 15 June 2020 But if the recent protest was peaceful, the county takeover of the Camden Police Department was contentious. Author: Maryclaire Dale, Anchorage Daily News, "Rethinking police: How Camden, NJ, reimagined its force," 15 June 2020 The extraordinary government support for the German and French flag carriers has been contentious. John Detrixhe, Quartz, "How Europe’s low-cost airlines are surviving the pandemic without billion-dollar bailouts," 15 June 2020 The public safety committee rarely hosts a contentious meeting, let alone one held through Webex software, but these are not normal times for a city reeling from protests and riots over the past two weeks. Ryan Martin, The Indianapolis Star, "Indianapolis councilors grill IMPD chief during four-hour committee meeting," 12 June 2020

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

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

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Time Traveler for contentious

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

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Last Updated

28 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Contentious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Jul. 2020.

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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

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