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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

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 That creates fewer fit problems next to Kemba Walker but creates some ambiguity as to what roles Bridges and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will fill. Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times, "2018 N.B.A. Draft Results: Analysis of Every Pick in Round 1," 21 June 2018 Yet on Capitol Hill, there’s little ambiguity about the role Nadler — a staunch opponent of Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 — could soon play. Gabriel Debenedetti, Daily Intelligencer, "Mega-Donor Tom Steyer Is Forcing Democrats to Talk Impeachment. Is It a Losing Strategy?," 25 May 2018 Chef Dylan McGrath leads the way here with a seasonal menu that’s part vegan, part gluten-free, part Whole 30, part keto—the menu is amply annotated with ingredient explanation, so there’s no ambiguity. Todd Plummer, Vogue, "There’s a Fresh Crop of Vegan Restaurants in Dublin," 15 Mar. 2019 For service businesses, there was ambiguity around cost markups for services in foreign countries—for example, when a U.S. parent pays a premium to its foreign subsidiary to perform a service. Richard Rubin, WSJ, "New Treasury Rules Extend Tax Relief to Foreign Banks," 13 Dec. 2018 As captivating as her new tattoo is, there is some ambiguity surrounding it. Nicole Saunders, Harper's BAZAAR, "Halle Berry Shows Off Her Massive New Back Tattoo with a Stripped-Down Instagram," 5 Mar. 2019 And while the ambiguity around what’s legal (or moral) drives the lion’s share of the show’s delicious drama, one thing that’s never unclear is just what kind of world these characters live in. Adam Rathe, Town & Country, "How Billions Makes Its Characters Look Super Rich," 24 Mar. 2019 Analysts at Raymond James acknowledged that regulatory ambiguity in September. Charley Grant, WSJ, "High-Flying Pet Insurer Faces New Risk," 31 Oct. 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.

See More

First Known Use of ambiguity

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

History and Etymology for ambiguity

see ambiguous

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ambiguity

Statistics for ambiguity

Last Updated

13 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ambiguity

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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.

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on ambiguity

What made you want to look up ambiguity? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a sum of money that is sent as a payment

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Time Traveler Quiz: Which Word Came First?

  • time traveler quiz which word came first
  • Which came first?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!