1. A state of open, often prolonged fighting; a battle or war.
2. A state of disagreement or disharmony between persons or ideas; a clash: a conflict over water rights.
3. Psychology An emotional or mental disturbance resulting from the opposition or simultaneous functioning of mutually exclusive impulses, desires, or tendencies.
4. Opposition between characters or forces in a work of drama or fiction, especially when motivating or shaping the action of the plot.
intr.v. (kən-flĭkt) con·flict·ed, con·flict·ing, con·flicts
1. To be in or come into opposition; differ.
2. Archaic To engage in warfare.
[Middle English, from Latin cōnflīctus, collision, from past participle of cōnflīgere, to strike together : com-, com- + flīgere, to strike.]
con·flictu·al (kən-flĭkch-əl) adj.
Synonyms: conflict, discord, strife, contention, dissension, clash
These nouns refer to a state of disagreement and disharmony. Conflict has the broadest application: a conflict of interests; a conflict between the demands of work and family.
Discord is a lack of harmony often marked by bickering and antipathy: The summit was marred by discord among the leaders.
Strife usually implies an open struggle, often destructive, between rivals or factions: "Your eye is then drawn to the scene below, down to the valley below, where everywhere are the ravages of famine, the drumbeat of war, a world groaning under strife and deprivation" (Barack Obama).
Contention suggests a dispute in the form of heated debate or quarreling: During the debate, we expect lively contention among the candidates.
Dissension implies difference of opinion that disrupts unity within a group: "Dissension had been brewing between the North and South long before the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter" (Ted Yanak & Pam Cornelison).
Clash involves irreconcilable ideas or interests: a clash between tradition and modernity; a clash of egos.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.