con·tro·ver·sial | \ˌkän-trə-ˈvər-shəl, -ˈvər-sē-əl\

Definition of controversial 

1 : of, relating to, or arousing controversy a controversial policy a controversial film

2 : given to controversy : disputatious a controversial temperament The controversial biologist caused a ferment among his colleagues.

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from controversial

controversialism \ˌkän-trə-ˈvər-shə-ˌli-zəm, -sē-ə-ˌli- \ noun
controversialist \ˌkän-trə-ˈvər-shə-list, -sē-ə-list \ noun
controversially adverb

Examples of controversial in a Sentence

Abortion is a highly controversial subject. a decision that remains controversial He is a controversial author.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

This wasn't the first time a religious license plate has been controversial. Joseph Gerth, The Courier-Journal, "Prayers answered: Woman can continue using 'PRAY' on license plate," 12 July 2018 But the proposal has still been controversial because critics could attack council members for placing a measure on the ballot that could end up increasing their salaries. David Garrick,, "Long-stalled pay raises for San Diego mayor, council may be headed to ballot," 26 June 2018 German players Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan, who are of Turkish descent, caused a controversy by posing for a photo with Turkey’s highly controversial president, Tayyip Erdogan. Ann Killion,, "Shut up and dribble? Not in basketball. Certainly not in soccer," 25 June 2018 High-fence hunting is controversial even among hunters; many question the ethics of paying to shoot animals unable to escape confinement. Ryan Sabalow, sacbee, "Wild pigs cause millions in damages in California. But hunting them could become easier," 25 June 2018 Miller came to the Diamondbacks in a highly controversial trade with the Atlanta Braves in December 2015, a deal that likely played a big part in ownership’s decision to part ways with that front office regime less than a year later. Nick Piecoro, azcentral, "Arizona Diamondbacks' Shelby Miller set to make return from elbow surgery," 21 June 2018 The Video Assistant Referee system quickly became a talking point in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and the officials’ decision to not overturn an incredible solo goal by Diego Costa proved was highly controversial on social media. Nick Schwartz, For The Win, "Everything you need to know about VAR, the video system that will change the World Cup," 16 June 2018 No qualified officials were in the office to receive a complaint this morning on the first day of work for this highly controversial public project. Andrew Greif,, "Oregon Ducks bow out of 3x3 World Cup against eventual champs," 12 June 2018 Greenwich Lane, which involved the conversion of the former Saint Vincent’s Hospital, was highly controversial. New York Times, "New Parks Sprout Around New York," 8 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'controversial.' 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 controversial

1583, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for controversial

see controversy

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about controversial

Share controversial

Statistics for controversial

Last Updated

9 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for controversial

The first known use of controversial was in 1583

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for controversial



English Language Learners Definition of controversial

: relating to or causing much discussion, disagreement, or argument : likely to produce controversy


con·tro·ver·sial | \ˌkän-trə-ˈvər-shəl \

Kids Definition of controversial

: relating to or causing disagreement or argument a controversial law

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on controversial

What made you want to look up controversial? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one that holds something together

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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