from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Of, producing, or marked by controversy.
  • adjective Fond of controversy; disputatious.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Of or pertaining to controversy; characterized by or connected with disputation; disputatious: as, a controversial discourse.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adjective Relating to, or consisting of, controversy; disputatious; polemical.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective Arousing controversy—a debate or discussion of opposing opinions.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adjective marked by or capable of arousing controversy


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Latin controversia ("controversy") + -al; see controversy.


  • The word controversial doesn't begin to describe this remarkably frank but profoundly disturbing book, which not only attempts to defend sex for pay, but insists it's preferable to romantic love.

    NPR Topics: News

  • Whenever a news story makes mention of The Huffington Post's bloggers, the word "controversial" is often attached.

    Yashar Hedayat: In This Case, Proud to Be a "Scab"

  • In response the Commission's spokesman, Andy Saenz, the spokesperson for the Commission, said the commission did not want what it described as "controversial implications" about global warming included in the report.

    Christopher Brauchli: Texas Censors Science

  • The first of these are what we call controversial activities.

    Solar panels you can install with a clear conscience

  • She said some teachers take issue with the use of the word "controversial."

  • He quickly got down to promoting what he described as the controversial $938 billion package's benefits.

    Elections - fresh news by

  • But, about the only controversy surrounding the film's release here took place a couple weeks ago when Israel Railways banned a poster on their trains and depots advertising Bruno because of what it calls controversial content.

    English-writing Israeli-bloggers

  • (PORTLAND, Ore.) - Victims of clergy sex abuse blasted Catholic officials in Portland today for "playing legal hardball" in what they describe as a controversial and ground-breaking clergy sex abuse and cover up case

  • Steele, whose first term as chairman has been controversial, is all but certain to draw opposition for the post.

    World Watch

  • Mr. Steele, whose first term as chairman has been controversial, is likely to face opposition in a contest that could create a distraction for Republicans at a time when they're hoping to re-establish their ability to build consensus and lead.

    Campaign Wire


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • I'm interested in a split of usage pattern, between a traditional sense requiring actually being the subject of a controversy or dispute, and what I take to be a more recent and laxer pattern where the speaker calls something controversial even if they only expect the item is likely to arouse controversy. And in that latter sense, the focus may still not really be on the (potential) dispute but on some perceived inherent quality of the object making it provocative, e.g. if it is sexual in content, or takes an unpopular political stand.

    January 23, 2015