I have been racking my brain and consulting several dictionaries to tease out the difference but these two adjectives are too similar both in terms of definition and use.

Here are the defitinitons from three of the online dictionaries I have used but in vain:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/conflicted https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/ambivalent

https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/conflicted https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/ambivalent

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/conflicted?q=conflicted https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/ambivalent?q=ambivalent

I'd really appreciate it if you could tell me the difference between these two adjectives.

  • 2
    I use conflicted for actions - not sure what to do next - and ambivalent for liking and not liking. Ambivalence gives me a conflict. Commented Jun 11 at 16:50
  • 4
    The word conflicted comes from conflict which strongly implies an internal struggle (figuratively). Ambivelent lacks that meaning, it's more about being in two minds/undecided, unconvinced about a decision, possibly even indifferent etc.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jun 11 at 17:21
  • 3
    I agree with other users. "I am conflicted about what to get" at a restaurant = you can't decide between two or more options, but those options sound really good. "I'm ambivalent about what to get" means that any option would likely be fine, and also implies the expectation of disappointment or maybe you're just not that hungry. Commented Jun 11 at 17:42

3 Answers 3


In a lot of situations in which you are "conflicted", you would also be "ambivalent". So both words apply.

Conflicted is related to "conflict", so there should be some kind of "battle" in your mind about the two options. You have strong feelings (positive or negative) for both options.

Ambivalent can mean when you just don't care much for either option. You have weak feelings about both options.

I'm feeling really conflicted about appointing Ron. He's clearly very knowledgeable, but his interpersonal skills are very bad, and I don't think he would fit in at our company.

I'm rather ambivalent about appointing Cam. She is a rather mediocre candidate, perhaps if we keep looking we'll find someone better.

But remember in many situations both you could use either word and it would be correct.

  • 1
    Agreed, for some reason I was thinking about this recently in the context of thoughts around children when dating; if I said "I'm ambivalent about having children" it probably means I'm happy to either have children or not have children and I don't have a strong opinion either way. If I say "I'm conflicted about having children" it means I have two equally strong opposing opinions, and they could easily resolve one way or another with or without outside influence as my mind works through the conflict, so perhaps in a few years I could be firmly for it or firmly against it.
    – Muzer
    Commented Jun 12 at 10:19
  • I'm not sure about the first sentence. Both words relate to being indecisive but for very different reasons. Can you give an example where you would have weak feelings about the options and have strong feelings about the options?
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Jun 12 at 16:54
  • But I thought ambivalent implied mixed feelings. I still don't get it and don't know what to believe.
    – S635
    Commented Jun 12 at 19:34
  • @S635 what is unclear. In many situations the words are synonyms so use either (they mean the same) But "conflicted" means there is a "conflict" in your feelings. Ambivalent means you have mixed feelings, but no "conflict". This is a very minor point of English Most people won't care. Most people won't notice.
    – James K
    Commented Jun 12 at 19:38
  • @S635 "ambivalent" at its etymological origin means "going both ways", i.e. not being against any particular option. Conflicted, by contrast, tends to imply that you find reasons to be against either option, rendering it more of a "lesser of two evils" (conflicted and arguably ambivalent) scenario as opposed to a "I'm happy with either option" (definitely ambivalent, but not conflicted) scenario.
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 13 at 5:23

It's not surprising that you're confused: I find the word "ambivalence" included in definitions of "conflicted"! Here are two more dictionary entries. These "learner's dictionaries" are helpful for getting broad understandings, but if you want to be very particular, you might try Merriam-Webster (assuming you don't have easy access to the Oxford English Dictionary):

Ambivalent: having or showing simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward something or someone

Conflicted: experiencing or marked by ambivalence or a conflict especially of emotions

It helps to think about the related words. "Conflicted" means you're experiencing conflict. It's an emotional state; it's a bit of a metaphor, saying that you're "fighting" inside.

"Ambivalence" comes from ambi-, meaning "both," and valence, meaning "strength." You're feeling two equally strong forces in opposite directions.

Now, being in a state of ambivalence will often make someone feel conflicted. Being pulled in opposite directions would often make someone upset! So there are many cases in which either word would work. But to distinguish between them, imagine cases in which one but not the other is true.

"I'm conflicted, but I'm not ambivalent": I still feel inner turmoil; I haven't come to a conclusion about this question; but I don't feel equal forces in opposite directions. See, "ambivalence" is a state of stasis: if the forces acting on me were equal, I would be unmoved. But if I'm being pulled toward one conclusion, I'm no longer ambivalent—but I'm not at peace with that conclusion, so I'm still fighting inside.

"I'm ambivalent, but I'm not conflicted": I feel pulled in two directions, and the pulls are equal, but I'm not upset about it. "Ambivalent" can often mean a very unemotional state: You could be ambivalent because you care so much about two opposite options, or you could be ambivalent because you care so little. If neither option has a very good argument, and you don't really care either way, you're ambivalent, but you're hardly experiencing inner turmoil.


I think while the words overlap a lot, there is a tendency that conflicted concerns a choice, or several antagonistic feelings: A plurality. Ambivalence more often refers to our attitude towards a single person, situation or prospect.

For example, you may be conflicted about your feelings for two girls or boys, but you may be ambivalent about your feelings for one: "Ambivalence is the experience of having an attitude towards someone or something that contains both positively and negatively valenced components." (Wikipedia)

You may have conflicting feelings for the same person, but again: Plural feelings.

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