Quite often, the phrase "x for x's sake" is used in English, and so one could describe someone as being "argumentative for argument's sake" to describe someone who is arguing for the sake of arguing. However, is there an adjective that means the same thing? For example, it could be used in the context:

I don't want to be [X], but [argument...]

... indicating that your argument is necessary and not intended to irritate.

  • @WillHunting: argumentative does not already have a negative connotation. That impression is due to an indiscriminate usage I suppose. – Kris Jan 11 '12 at 10:54
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    The standard idiomatic usage is argument for argument's sake, which applies to the proposition being advanced, or the act of advancing it. It's not an attribute of the person making the argument. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 '12 at 16:03
  • In some contexts, words like pedantic or nitpicky might work, but these don't actually mean "argumentative for argument's sake"; rather, they serve to "[indicate] that your argument is necessary and not intended to irritate." – Marthaª Jan 11 '12 at 17:44
  • Another fine word, though slightly off the mark, would be pettifogging. – Zairja Sep 7 '12 at 20:32

Quarrelsome might be appropriate.

"apt or disposed to quarrel in an often petty manner"

  • Nice answer, I've accepted this because a quarrel implies an angry disagreement, not just a civil one. – Jez Jan 11 '12 at 19:01

The word you use in your question, argumentative, can be used to express what you want to say. An alternative could be contentious, meaning (for a person) liking to argue.


The type of person you would be is a contrarian, and this word has some currency with Christopher Hitchens. The adjective is contrary, emphasis on the second syllable, as in the nursery rhyme, but this may be mostly BrE.

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    Alternately, if it's someone who always picks the other side whether or not they really believe in it, they're "playing Devil's advocate", a phrase which historically derives from a role in canonization of Roman Catholic saints where a priest would be charged to try to find mundane explanations for the miracles so that enthusiasm wouldn't lead to someone being canonized incorrectly. – Sean Duggan Jan 11 '12 at 14:43
  • Ditto Sean. To be "contrary" or a "contrarian" means someone who will disagree with others just to be annoying. Like if you say it's good, I'll say it's bad; if you say it's new, I'll say it's old, etc. To be "contentious" or "argumentative" is to like to argue, but this is normally understood as arguing for a position one really believes in, not just always taking the opposite side from the last speaker. – Jay Jan 11 '12 at 17:57

Eristic, from classical Greek, means to argue with no goal in mind. As the philosopher Gilbert Ryle points out, "the eristic preoccupation with victory displaces any commitment to truth."

  • Can you cite a reliable reference? I'm finding it confusing that "eristic" means to argue with no goal in mind, but in the context of your example there is a clear goal (victory). – MetaEd Jul 11 '13 at 13:24

I think applied to a person, argumentative, disputatious, truculent, contentious and many similar words normally mean inclined to argue, in the same way that bullying, intimidating, domineering mean inclined to dominate.

But people of such inclinations don't normally expect/appreciate the same thing being done back to them, whereas OP's “argumentative for argument's sake” (and the example context, putting aside the fact that it involves negation) seem to imply actively seeking a "two-way" disagreement.

I'd call that provocative, in the sense of seeking to provoke a reaction/argument.


The Argumentative Indian

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has written on 'the argumentative Indian', giving currency to the definition of argumentative. [The use here is with a positive connotation of public debate and intellectual pluralism.]

Need better testimonials?

For especially neutral/ negative connotations, try polemical.

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    "Polemical" does not mean argumentative for argument's sake. It means aggressive in argument. – MetaEd Jan 11 '12 at 15:39
  • @MetaEd Synonyms: contentious, controversial, disputatious, argumentative (also polemic), quarrelsome, scrappy Antonyms: noncontroversial, safe, uncontroversial [from my reference above.] – Kris Jan 12 '12 at 4:44

What about cavil or cavilling?

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    This answer would benefit from a little expansion on what cavil means, why you think it would fit, and perhaps a link to a dictionary definition. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 31 '12 at 23:39

Polemical doesn't mean " .. aggressive in argument", absolutely not. Maybe have a look at Plato and the Socratic method, the Socratic movement for a better understanding of a polemic?

I like "eristic" and "contrary" in the case I needed to find a suitable word for someone who was just being bl@@dy minded in his / her comments and methods with no likely positive nor favourable outcome.

Cutting off one's nose to spite one's face also fits.

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    Welcome to English Stack Exchange. Like all Stack Exchange sites this is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. As such anything posted in the Answer box must answer the Question. Your post seems to be a series of comments on other people's answers. – AndyT Jul 26 '18 at 10:04

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