[ kon-truh-vur-see; British also kuhn-trov-er-see ]
/ ˈkɒn trəˌvɜr si; British also kənˈtrɒv ər si /
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See synonyms for: controversy / controversies on Thesaurus.com

noun, plural con·tro·ver·sies.
a prolonged public dispute, debate, or contention; disputation concerning a matter of opinion.
contention, strife, or argument.
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Origin of controversy

1350–1400; Middle English controversie (<Anglo-French ) <Latin contrōversia, equivalent to contrōvers(us) turned against, disputed (contrō-, variant of contrā against, + versus, past participle of vertere to turn) + -ia-y3

synonym study for controversy

2. See argument.

OTHER WORDS FROM controversy

pre·con·tro·ver·sy, noun, plural pre·con·tro·ver·sies.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does controversy mean?

A controversy is a prolonged dispute, debate, or state of contention, especially one that unfolds in public and involves a stark difference of opinion.

Controversy can refer to a specific dispute, as in The recent controversy started three weeks ago, or a general state of contention, as in Important literature usually results in controversy.

The adjective form controversial is used to describe someone or something that causes people to get upset and argue.

Example: The controversy surrounding the candidate’s past remarks has overshadowed the campaign.

Where does controversy come from?

The first records of the word controversy come from the 1300s. It comes from the Latin contrōversia, which is equivalent to contrōvers(us), meaning “turned against” or “disputed.” The term ultimately derives from the roots contrā, meaning “against” (as seen in words like contrary), and vertere, meaning “to turn” (as in the word versus).

Yes, controversies cause 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 use the word controversy when these situations 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, controversies 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 cause controversy 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 controversy?

What are some words that share a root or word element with controversy


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


How is controversy used in real life?

The word controversy is most often used when such a dispute happens in public and is documented (and, yes, sometimes played up) by the media.



Try using controversy!

Which of the following words is LEAST likely to be used to describe a controversy?

A. intense
B. political
C. contentious
D. agreeable

How to use controversy in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for controversy

/ (ˈkɒntrəˌvɜːsɪ, kənˈtrɒvəsɪ) /

noun plural -sies
dispute, argument, or debate, esp one concerning a matter about which there is strong disagreement and esp one carried on in public or in the press

Derived forms of controversy

controversial (ˌkɒntrəˈvɜːʃəl), adjectivecontroversialism, nouncontroversialist, nouncontroversially, adverb

Word Origin for controversy

C14: from Latin contrōversia, from contrōversus turned in an opposite direction, from contra- + vertere to turn
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012