"The approach necessitates teams, divisions and agencies to work together to deliver the change needed, which can also be confronting: it often conflicts with hierarchies and individual KPIs"

Is the usage of the word "confronting" appropriate here? Can it be used as an adjective, like "challenging"?

3 Answers 3


A good test of whether a word is acceptable to use as an adjective is modification by degree modifiers like pretty, very, rather. There are some relatively recent examples to be found of confronting being used in this manner.

The biggest influence on my work and my way of looking at the world has been psychotherapy. It's a very confronting business. # MA Craziness is terrifying. It almost seems to be the thing that it's here for -- to be frightening and to make no sense. The things that make no sense are frightening. (MAG: New Statesman 10/10/2014, “We are heading for a wilderness”)

We're just having games, playing. Playing, and being recorded. It's very confronting, not to know the lines and have to go to that place. I was hoping you'd be comfortable to jump up and give it a go. (Aim High in Creation, Year: 2013 / Genre: Documentary, Adventure, Comedy)

I imagine it must have been an agony for her family to experience it privately, without having to endure it publicly as well. Having said that, going through this collectively was probably very confronting in a society that is fixated on superficialities, youth, and beauty. (BLOG )

Mack, 26, said in an exclusive interview. " I'm sure it will be very confronting because I think of her every day and deeply regret what happened. " (NY Post, `Suitcase Killer' Heather Mack remorseful after release from Bali prison)

There's a lot of hits for 'very confronting' in the news especially, though most seem to be in quotes from interviews like the last example above.

The Oxford English Dictionary does have an adjective listing for confronting. However, their examples are all rather dated and could also be analyzed as verb uses.

1614 W. Raleigh Hist. World i. i. x. §3. 191 The confronting, and next people of all other vnto it.

1710 E. Ward Vulgus Britannicus: 3rd Pt. 115 Large Confronting Bumpers pass.

1798 J. Hucks Poems 178 Ev'n now confronting armies meet.

The Cambridge Online Dictionary entry seems to fit what you're looking for.

adjective mainly Australian English

causing strong or difficult feelings, especially in a way that creates thought or discussion:

I found her talk very engaging and at times confronting.

More examples

  • I can understand why people found parts of the film confronting.

  • Without these women even opening their mouths they've already been labelled as "absurd", "confronting", "frightening", just because of how they dress.

  • He states that many Aussies tend to find differences in other cultures "confronting" and can't be bothered to see things from any
    other perspective.

  • He likes the word "confronting", as in, "intimacy can be really confronting for people". Her art is utterly contemporary, sometimes confronting.

  • 1
    It might be useful to compare usage data of 'very confronting' and 'very confrontational'. I'd say the CD [mainly Australian English] caveat is very apposite. May 15 at 18:33

In principle, it's "syntactically valid" to use confronting adjectivally, but idiomatically, we just don't do this. It's...

...the change needed ... can also be confrontational

confrontational Collins Dictionary
If you describe the way that someone behaves as confrontational, you are showing your disapproval of the fact that they are aggressive and likely to cause an argument or dispute.

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  • 1
    "but idiomatically, we just don't do this" - Who is we? I have heard usage similar to what was quoted in the question quite a lot. I'm not surprised that "a confronting attitude" isn't used much though.
    – nnnnnn
    May 15 at 12:46
  • If we do an ngram for 'a confronting experience' vs 'a confrontational experience', confronting wins out. If 'experience' is changed to 'sight', only confronting registers at all. The choice of head noun seems important.
    – DW256
    May 16 at 9:56
  • @nnnnnn: "we" is Anglophones in general, as reflected by my NGram chart drawn from billions of words written in millions of books. Don't forget that you're far more likely to notice & remember any "unusual" alternative usages, simply because they are unusual. In principle I have no particular objection to people using "non-standard" adjectival confronting - but as a rule of thumb, anyone who actually needs to ask whether it's okay probably shouldn't. May 16 at 10:20
  • @DW256: Indeed. Usage today is pretty evenly split between, say, a comforting / comfortable doctrine, but it's always a comfortable hotel. Comforting hotels are rarer than hen's teeth! May 16 at 10:55
  • Your NGram chart shows the phrase "a confronting attitude". As per my original comment that's not how people use confronting as an adjective, so of course NGrams didn't show many instances of that. People don't say "a confronting [noun]", they say "[something] was confronting" (as in the example in the question).
    – nnnnnn
    6 hours ago

Yes, it can be used in that way to mean 'challenging', 'difficult', or 'hard'. However, the context of use should help you determine whether to go with 'confronting' or use a more common synonym. In a purely literary context, 'confronting' sounds good.

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    May 15 at 6:15
  • 1
    Please see the answer by DW256. It gives references and reasons; yours does not. Mere assertion is not sufficient on this site.
    – Anton
    May 15 at 7:16

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