am·​biv·​a·​lent | \ am-ˈbi-və-lənt How to pronounce ambivalent (audio) \

Essential Meaning of ambivalent

: having or showing very different feelings (such as love and hate) about someone or something at the same time He felt ambivalent about his job. [=he both liked and disliked his job] He has an ambivalent relationship with his family. See More ExamplesShe has a deeply/very ambivalent attitude about/to/toward religion. The senator is ambivalent about running for president. [=the senator has not decided whether or not to run for president]Hide

Full Definition of ambivalent

: having or showing simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward something or someone : characterized by ambivalence … people whose relationship to their job is ambivalent, conflicted.— Terrence Rafferty Americans are deeply ambivalent about the country's foreign role. Isolationist yearnings coexist uneasily with superpower policies.— David P. Calleo

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Other Words from ambivalent

ambivalently adverb
He spoke ambivalently about his military experiences.

Synonyms & Antonyms for ambivalent



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Ambiguous vs. Ambivalent

The difficulty that many people have in distinguishing between ambiguous and ambivalent shows that all that is needed to create confusion with words is to begin them with several of the same letters. In spite of the fact that these two words have histories, meanings, and origins that are fairly distinct, people often worry about mistakenly using one for the other.

Dating to the 16th century, ambiguous is quite a bit older than ambivalent, which appears to have entered English in the jargon of early 20th-century psychologists. Both words are in some fashion concerned with duality: ambivalent relates to multiple and contradictory feelings, whereas ambiguous often describes something with several possible meanings that create uncertainty.

The words’ etymologies offer some help in distinguishing between them. Their shared prefix, ambi-, means "both." The -valent in ambivalent comes from the Late Latin valentia ("power") and, in combination with ambi-, suggests the pull of two different emotions. The -guous in ambiguous, on the other hand, comes ultimately from Latin agere ("to drive, to lead"); paired with ambi-, it suggests movement in two directions at once, and hence, a wavering or uncertainty.

Examples of ambivalent in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Liu actually feels himself responsible for the man’s plight, and Jiang’s genial but ambivalent performance doesn’t give us much access to the character’s deeper recesses. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 14 Oct. 2021 Though some chefs are ambivalent toward the rankings, back when people could fly around more freely in the pre-pandemic days, a spot on the top 50 could drive business. Jeremy Repanich, Robb Report, 5 Oct. 2021 Approaching the August 31 deadline, the military had evacuated all but 100 to 200 citizens, many of them still ambivalent about leaving. John Harwood, CNN, 5 Sep. 2021 So Kendall probably is ambivalent about a proposal out of the House Armed Services Committee to begin replacing the existing engine as early as 2027. Loren Thompson, Forbes, 27 Sep. 2021 Among the recall’s opponents, some were ambivalent about Newsom, and cast ballots more out of fear of a far right-wing takeover by Elder. Los Angeles Times, 14 Sep. 2021 For much of the past two decades, Beijing was ambivalent about the massive U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. NBC News, 17 Aug. 2021 Others may feel ambivalent themselves, but their anxious parents will sign them up for an appointment at the earliest opportunity. Karen Kaplan Science And Medicine Editor, Los Angeles Times, 14 Sep. 2021 The Coast Guard is a bit ambivalent about this unexpected Congressional largesse. Craig Hooper, Forbes, 12 Sep. 2021

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

1912, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ambivalent

borrowed from German, from ambi- ambi- + -valent, in äquivalent equivalent

Note: The German term was introduced, along with Ambivalenz ambivalence, by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939) in "Zur Theorie des schizophrenen Negativismus," Psychiatrisch-Neurologische Wochenschrift, Band 12, Nr. 18 (July 30, 1910), p. 171.

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The first known use of ambivalent was in 1912

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ambivalent feelings

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Last Updated

24 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ambivalent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

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