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de·​bate di-ˈbāt How to pronounce debate (audio)
: a contention by words or arguments
Our polite chat about politics became a heated debate.
The case sparked a raging public debate on property rights.
: such as
: a regulated discussion of a proposition (see proposition entry 1 sense 1b) between two matched sides
the last presidential debate before the election
the debate's moderator
law and government : the formal discussion of a motion (see motion entry 1 sense 3a) before a deliberative body according to the rules of parliamentary procedure


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debated; debating

transitive verb

: to argue about
the subject was hotly debated
: to engage (an opponent) in debate
a governor debating her challenger
: to turn over in one's mind : to think about (something, such as different options) in order to decide
still debating what to do

intransitive verb

: to participate in a debate
the six primary candidates who debated last night
: to contend in words
: to discuss a question by considering opposed arguments
obsolete : fight, contend
debatement noun
debater noun
Choose the Right Synonym for debate

discuss, argue, debate mean to discourse about in order to reach conclusions or to convince.

discuss implies a sifting of possibilities especially by presenting considerations pro and con.

discussed the need for a new highway

argue implies the offering of reasons or evidence in support of convictions already held.

argued that the project would be too costly

debate suggests formal or public argument between opposing parties

debated the merits of the amendment

; it may also apply to deliberation with oneself.

I'm debating whether I should go

Examples of debate in a Sentence

Noun The candidates participated in several debates before the election was held. The meaning of the text has been the subject of considerable debate among scholars for many years. Verb Scholars have been debating the meaning of the text for years. Whether or not the tax cuts benefit the lower classes is still hotly debated among economists. The energy bill is currently being debated in Congress. The President debated his challenger in front of a live audience on Tuesday. The students debated for an hour.
Recent Examples on the Web
Spotify is shaking the table and sparking heated debates with its latest music ranking list. Rivea Ruff, Essence, 9 Apr. 2024 Stirring a major debate within national media, the investigating documentary revealed new evidence that contributed to saving Lucio’s life 48 hours before her execution date. Elsa Keslassy, Variety, 9 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for debate 

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

Word History


Verb and Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French debatre, from de- + batre to beat, from Latin battuere

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined above


14th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of debate was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near debate

Cite this Entry

“Debate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
de·​bate di-ˈbāt How to pronounce debate (audio)
: a verbal argument: as
: the discussion of a motion before a legislature
: a regulated discussion of a problem between two matched sides


2 of 2 verb
debated; debating
: to discuss or examine a question often publicly by presenting and considering arguments on both sides
: to take part in a debate
: to present or consider the reasons for and against : consider
debater noun

More from Merriam-Webster on debate

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