When things are described as "controversial," it's usually done with a negative connotation, as in "a controversial new law that many feel restricts their freedom." It seems people tend to describe something as "controversial" only if they personally disagree with it.

I am looking for a word that has the same meaning of "causing equally strong opposing views" without that negative connotation. The only synonyms I have found so far are "contentious" and "argumentative," which both have the same negative connotation of someone deliberately trying to provoke an argument.

  • 1
    'Strong opposing views' how can they be neutral?
    – user66974
    Dec 17, 2014 at 18:17
  • 1
    I'm looking for a word with a neutral connotation that describes something that people have strong opposing views on.
    – Nicole
    Dec 17, 2014 at 18:18

4 Answers 4


Polarizing or divisive might be what you're looking for. Polarizing isn't often used this way (in the figurative rather than technical meaning) in my experience, but it should still be a recognizable term.


II. fig. 4.

a. trans. To accentuate a division within (a group, system, etc.); to separate into two (or occas. several) opposing groups, extremes of opinion, etc.

Divisive (being the adjectival form of divide) clearly refers to a thing that divides, but may also carry slight negative connotations in a similar way to the other words mentioned in the question.

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    These are no more neutral than controversial, and possibly less. Nobody describes their own view as divisive.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 17, 2014 at 20:09
  • @Oldcat: In this respect, then, my experience appears to differ from yours. I definitely think it's very easy to add connotations to these terms that will season the word in the mind of the listener, particularly variable with the perceived agenda of the speaker.
    – Aesin
    Dec 17, 2014 at 22:00
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    I still don't think I have ever heard someone describe their own views as divisive. Or even Polarizing. Often people describe their own views as controversial.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 17, 2014 at 22:38

How about disputed (disputable) or debated (debatable)?


I would go for contrasting

A clue to the meaning of contrasting is the prefix contra-, which means "against": when something is contrasting, it's working against something else. The contrasting colors of the fabric create an unexpected sense of movement, even though they should be working against each other. Two people with contrasting opinions, such as a liberal and a conservative, usually won't get along very well. But once in a while, contrasting world views can spark an exciting exchange.

(my emphasis)

Source Vocabulary.com


Thought-provoking. A controversial thing is also one that challenges thoughts on each end of the spectrum it involves. Or "provocative" might also fit your niche. Or "Unsettling" is another? "Contrary" hits me too.

  • An answer should answer the question as an expert would, with explanation, context, and any supporting facts that are necessary to show that it is right. Expert partial answers are welcome, but trial balloons, offhand ideas, guesses, opinions, anecdotes, and general discussion belong in English Language & Usage Chat.
    – MetaEd
    May 10, 2018 at 20:56

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