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adjective am·big·u·ous \am-ˈbi-gyə-wəs\

Simple Definition of ambiguous

  • : able to be understood in more than one way : having more than one possible meaning

  • : not expressed or understood clearly

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of ambiguous

  1. 1 a :  doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness <eyes of an ambiguous color> b :  inexplicable

  2. 2 :  capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways <an ambiguous smile> <an ambiguous term> <a deliberately ambiguous reply>

ambiguously adverb
ambiguousness noun

Examples of ambiguous in a sentence

  1. Greater familiarity with this artist makes one's assessment of him more tentative rather than less. His best pictures exude a hypersensitive, ambiguous aura of grace. —Peter Schjeldahl, New Yorker, 10 Mar. 2003

  2. He seeks sources for the speech's ideas in Lincoln's ambiguous stance toward organized religion, in the sermons of preachers he listened to, and in his Bible-reading habit. —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist, 15 Dec. 2001

  3. In Mexico we follow the fraught, ambiguous journey of a Tijuana cop … caught between the ruthless, corrupt general … he works for and the DEA, which wants him to inform on his countrymen. —David Ansen, Newsweek, 8 Jan. 2001

  4. Physicians could manipulate reimbursement rules to help their patients obtain coverage for care that the physicians perceive to be necessary, for example, through ambiguous documentation or by exaggerating the severity of patients' conditions. —Michael K. Wynia et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, 12 Apr. 2000

  5. We were confused by the ambiguous wording of the message.

  6. He looked at her with an ambiguous smile.

  7. Due to the ambiguous nature of the question, it was difficult to choose the right answer.

  8. the ambiguous position of women in modern society

Origin of ambiguous

Latin ambiguus, from ambigere to be undecided, from ambi- + agere to drive — more at agent

First Known Use: 1528

Synonym Discussion of ambiguous

obscure, dark, vague, enigmatic, cryptic, ambiguous, equivocal mean not clearly understandable. obscure implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge <obscure poems>. dark implies an imperfect or clouded revelation often with ominous or sinister suggestion <muttered dark hints of revenge>. vague implies a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration <a vague sense of obligation>. enigmatic stresses a puzzling, mystifying quality <enigmatic occult writings>. cryptic implies a purposely concealed meaning <cryptic hints of hidden treasure>. ambiguous applies to language capable of more than one interpretation <an ambiguous directive>. equivocal applies to language left open to differing interpretations with the intention of deceiving or evading <moral precepts with equivocal phrasing>.

Rhymes with ambiguous

AMBIGUOUS Defined for Kids


adjective am·big·u·ous \am-ˈbi-gyə-wəs\

Definition of ambiguous for Students

  1. :  able to be understood in more than one way <an ambiguous explanation>

ambiguously adverb <answered ambiguously>

Seen and Heard

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to manage or play awkwardly

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