A sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) is often defined as zonal-mean zonal wind reversal at 10 hPa and 60 degrees N. This simple definition has been applied not only to the reanalysis data but also to climate model output. In the present study, it is shown that the application of this definition to models can be significantly influenced by model mean biases (i.e., more frequent SSWs appear to occur in models with a weaker climatological polar vortex). To overcome this deficiency, a tendency-based definition is proposed and applied to the multimodel datasets archived for phase 5 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). In this definition, SSW-like events are defined by sufficiently strong vortex deceleration. This approach removes a linear relationship between SSW frequency and intensity of the climatological polar vortex in the CMIP5 models. The models’ SSW frequency instead becomes significantly correlated with the climatological upward wave flux at 100 hPa, a measure of interaction between the troposphere and stratosphere. Lower stratospheric wave activity and downward propagation of stratospheric anomalies to the troposphere are also reasonably well captured. However, in both definitions, the high-top models generally exhibit more frequent SSWs than the low-top models. Moreover, a hint of more frequent SSWs in a warm climate is found in both definitions.