pug·​na·​cious ˌpəg-ˈnā-shəs How to pronounce pugnacious (audio)
: having a quarrelsome or combative nature : truculent
pugnaciously adverb
pugnaciousness noun
pugnacity noun

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Pugnacious individuals are often looking for a fight. While unpleasant, at least their fists are packing an etymological punch. Pugnacious comes from the Latin verb pugnare (meaning "to fight"), which in turn comes from the Latin word for "fist," pugnus. Another Latin word related to pugnus is pugil, meaning "boxer." Pugil is the source of our word pugilist, which means "fighter" and is used especially of professional boxers. Pugnare has also given us impugn ("to assail by words or arguments"), oppugn ("to fight against"), and repugnant (which is now used primarily in the sense of "exciting distaste or aversion," but which has also meant "characterized by contradictory opposition" and "hostile").

Choose the Right Synonym for pugnacious

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 pugnacious in a Sentence

That's a bass for you: pugnacious, adaptable and ever ready to demonstrate that the first order of business on any given day, drought or no drought, is eating anything that it can fit its big, powerful mouth around. Pete Bodo, New York Times, 22 Oct. 1995
Herz sees himself as a pugnacious sardine going up against rule-flouting sharks. Richard Wolkomir, Smithsonian, August 1992
He was a short man with heavy shoulders, a slight potbelly, puffy blue eyes, and a pugnacious expression. Alice Munro, New Yorker, 2 Jan. 1989
Podhoretz takes a more pugnacious and protesting stance, insisting on the word "seriousness" at all times and punctuating it with the word "moral". Christopher Hitchens, Times Literary Supplement, 30 May 1986
There's one pugnacious member on the committee who won't agree to anything. a movie reviewer who is spirited, even pugnacious, when defending her opinions See More
Recent Examples on the Web Even Christie, whose trademark verbal belligerence was widely expected to light up the stage, was hardly more pugnacious than the fiery Haley and Pence, whom the moderators had to lecture to stop hogging the stage. Molly Ball, Time, 24 Aug. 2023 And, in a pointed about-face from the often pugnacious, no-apologies lyrical attack of the band’s classic catalog, the now-61-year-old Rose sounds downright contrite and apologetic at points in the song. Gil Kaufman, Billboard, 18 Aug. 2023 Behind a folksy, avuncular image there has long been a pugnacious persona ever poised to lash out at adversaries real and invented. Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, 20 Apr. 2023 Even great whites have been observed with the tell-tale round wounds of a cookie cutter bite, and the pugnacious hunters have been known to disable nuclear submarines. Steven Hill, Field & Stream, 26 July 2023 In contrast with Bolsonaro’s pugnacious isolationism, Lula has long sought to expand Brazil’s role on the world stage. Meaghan Tobin, Washington Post, 2 Mar. 2023 Gone is the pugnacious battler carrying around a career full of angst. Matthew Futterman, New York Times, 14 July 2023 The political bromides come out suffused with the handyman’s pugnacious personality. Celia Wren, Washington Post, 19 June 2023 Launched in early December by the pugnacious former Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi, the Twitter Files were framed not only as crusading works of investigative reporting but as a contemporary kind of gothic horror—literally. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 21 Mar. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Latin pugnac-, pugnax, from pugnare to fight — more at pungent

First Known Use

1642, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pugnacious was in 1642


Dictionary Entries Near pugnacious

Cite this Entry

“Pugnacious.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pugnacious. Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


pug·​na·​cious ˌpəg-ˈnā-shəs How to pronounce pugnacious (audio)
: showing a readiness to fight
pugnaciously adverb
pugnacity noun

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