ambiguity

noun
am·​bi·​gu·​i·​ty | \ ˌam-bə-ˈgyü-ə-tē How to pronounce ambiguity (audio) \
plural ambiguities

Definition of ambiguity

1a : the quality or state of being ambiguous especially in meaning The ambiguity of the poem allows several interpretations.
b : a word or expression that can be understood in two or more possible ways : an ambiguous word or expression

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Where Ambiguity Comes From

It might not be immediately clear (unless you are fluent in Latin) how ambiguity ("uncertainty") and ambidextrous ("using both hands with equal ease") are connected, aside from the fact that they both begin with the same four letters. Ambiguity (and ambiguous) comes from the Latin ambiguus, which was formed by combining ambi- (meaning "both") and agere ("to drive"). Ambidextrous combines the same prefix with dexter (meaning "skillful; relating to or situated on the right"). So each of these words carries the meaning of "both" in its history; one with the sense of "both meanings" and the other with that of "both hands." Ambiguity may be used to refer either to something (such as a word) which has multiple meanings, or to a more general state of uncertainty.

Examples of ambiguity in a Sentence

A third factor amping your desire to speed things along: Despite the euphoria of those first kisses and dates, the initial stages of infatuation can be incredibly unsettling. "You aren't sure yet where you stand with your mate, so you're anxious to shake the ambiguity," explains Regan. — Molly Triffin et al., Cosmopolitan, January 2008 Above the level of molecular biology, the notion of "gene" has become increasingly complex. The chapter in which Ridley addresses the ambiguities of this slippery word is an expository tour de force. He considers seven possible meanings of gene as used in different contexts: a unit of heredity; an interchangeable part of evolution; a recipe for a metabolic product;  … a development switch; a unit of selection; and a unit of instinct. — Raymond Tallis, Prospect, September 2003 The troubles in the Empire at the turn of the seventeenth century have often been laid at the door of the Peace of Augsburg. While it is true that the 1555 agreement papered over some unsolvable problems and contained ambiguities and loopholes, it had been conceived as a pragmatic compromise, and it did succeed in preserving the peace in Germany for one generation. — Alison D. Anderson, On the Verge of War, 1999 Her letters and diaries describe her own feelings of insecurity and worries about her possible fate if she could no longer work, and they also tell us a great deal about the ambiguity of her position within the society in which she lived, and her determination to defend and maintain her own status. — Joanna Martin, A Governess In the Age of Jane Austen, 1998 the ambiguities in his answers the ambiguity of the clairvoyant's messages from the deceased allowed the grieving relatives to interpret them however they wished
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Recent Examples on the Web

That would reduce ambiguity for schools over when or if the money will be available. Mike Rogoway, oregonlive.com, "Oregon Legislature votes to move potential tax vote to January," 1 July 2019 In North Korea, Trump similarly started with tough talk that gave way to internal dissension and then ended in ambiguity over the president’s long-term policy goals. Greg Jaffe, Washington Post, "A dangerous confusion at the heart of Trump’s foreign policy," 21 June 2019 Sheen and Tennant picked up in the ambiguity of their characters' relationship in the script – and decided to lean in. Elena Nicolaou, refinery29.com, "David Tennant & Michael Sheen Also Think Good Omens Is A Romance," 2 June 2019 According to Hertog, Hawking seldom mentioned the path integral formulation of the no-boundary wave function in his later years, partly because of the ambiguity around the choice of contour. Quanta Magazine, "Physicists Debate Hawking’s Idea That the Universe Had No Beginning," 6 June 2019 As their relationship soured, the ambiguity over ownership caused each side to clarify it on their own terms: Nike sought copyright protection while Leonard sought trademark protection. Michael Mccann, SI.com, "Kawhi Leonard vs. Nike: Analyzing the Raptors' Star's Logo Lawsuit," 4 June 2019 They were filmed with real film cameras, and the point of view was so original in its ambiguity. Corey Seymour, Vogue, "John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection Is the Greatest Tennis Film of All Time," 22 Aug. 2018 Shakespeare’s frequent treatment of ethical and legal questions is marked far more by its ambiguity and unresolved tensions than by clear directives and propositions—this is part of what makes his work simultaneously playful and vexing. Walt Hunter, The Atlantic, "When Hamlet Starts Showing Up in Federal Court," 13 June 2018 Any future plebiscite will be hobbled by the same defect as the last one: ambiguity about the precise outcome voters desire. Joseph C. Sternberg, WSJ, "Britain Risks Death by a Thousand Elections," 21 Nov. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ambiguity.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of ambiguity

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ambiguity

see ambiguous

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Statistics for ambiguity

Last Updated

8 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ambiguity

The first known use of ambiguity was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for ambiguity

ambiguity

noun

English Language Learners Definition of ambiguity

: something that does not have a single clear meaning : something that is ambiguous

ambiguity

noun
am·​bi·​gu·​i·​ty | \ ˌam-bə-ˈgyü-ə-tē How to pronounce ambiguity (audio) \
plural ambiguities

Kids Definition of ambiguity

: something that can be understood in more than one way The message was filled with confusing ambiguities.

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Comments on ambiguity

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