[ kon-truh-vur-shuhl ]
/ ˌkɒn trəˈvɜr ʃəl /
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of, relating to, or characteristic of controversy, or prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention; polemical: a controversial book.
subject to controversy; debatable: a controversial decision.
given to controversy; argumentative; disputatious: a controversial public figure.
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Origin of controversial

1575–85; <Late Latin contrōversiālis, equivalent to Latin contrōversi(a) controversy + -ālis-al1

OTHER WORDS FROM controversial

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does controversial mean?

Controversial is used to describe someone or something that causes people to get upset and argue.

Controversial is the adjective form of the noun controversy, which is a prolonged dispute, debate, or state of contention, especially one that unfolds in public and involves a stark difference of opinion. Things commonly called controversial include topics, actions, and people (particularly for what they say and do).

Example: Questions about the candidate’s controversial remarks from the past prevented him from talking about his campaign.

Where does controversial come from?

The first records of controversial in English come from around the 1580s. It comes from the Latin controversialis, which is ultimately derived from the roots contrā, meaning “against” (as seen in words like contrary), and vertere, meaning “to turn” (as in the word versus).

Yes, something that’s controversial causes people to turn against each other. People say and do things all the time that cause arguments or debate (and the strife and discord that come with them), but we most often apply controversial to those things when they play out in public. There’s a reason for that: the more public something is, the more people will engage with it. And when people are involved, there’s no shortage of opinions. The formula for controversy is very simple: a lot of opinions plus a lot of passion. Topics traditionally known as controversial include religion and politics, probably because those are two areas where people are least willing to compromise. In this way, topics that are controversial can be polarizing, meaning that they divide people into very specific groups based on their very specific opinions.

People (particularly public figures) are called controversial when they do or say things that get other people worked up. (Of course, some people are controversial on purpose, especially to attract attention.)

People sometimes criticize the use of the word controversial, especially by the media, to describe something that they argue is not just contentious but plain wrong in some way, as in His remarks weren’t controversial—they were racist.

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What are some other forms related to controversial?

  • controversy (noun)
  • controversially (adverb)
  • controversialism (noun)
  • controversialist (noun)
  • uncontroversial (adjective)
  • uncontroversially (adverb)
  • noncontroversial (adjective)
  • noncontroversially (adverb)
  • precontroversial (adjective)

What are some synonyms for controversial?

What are some words that often get used in discussing controversial?


How is controversial used in real life?

Just about any topic can be controversial if people feel strongly about it and disagree. Most often the word is used when such disagreement happens in public and is documented (and, yes, sometimes played up) by the media.



Try using controversial!

Which of the following is an antonym (opposite) of controversial?

A. debatable
B. polemical
C. questionable
D. undisputed

How to use controversial in a sentence