ambiguity

noun
am·​bi·​gu·​i·​ty | \ ˌam-bə-ˈgyü-ə-tē \
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 ambiguity is, in part, baked in to Starbucks’ business model and mission. David Z. Morris, Fortune, "Starbucks’ Vague Policies on Nonpaying Customers Make Stores Friendlier – for Some," 22 Apr. 2018 What's more is that there's just enough ambiguity to prevent it from explicitly praising James. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "Melania Trump's Statement About LeBron James Is a Lot Emptier Than People Realize," 5 Aug. 2018 Moreover, since Gemini also is linked to local community, for Venus Gemini, there is often no distinction between friend and lover — in fact, Gemini Venus prefers the ambiguity. Aliza Kelly Faragher, Allure, "What the Position of Venus in Your Birth Chart Means for You," 31 July 2018 And Brock’s Venom fit this mold of moral ambiguity. Alex Abad-santos, Vox, "Venom, Spider-Man’s symbiote supervillain, explained," 3 Oct. 2018 The lawsuit claims the replacement law still hurts transgender people by creating ambiguity about restroom access and preventing local officials from providing clarity or passing laws to protect LGBT rights. Jonathan Drew, USA TODAY, "North Carolina's transgender rights battle isn't over," 25 June 2018 That ambiguity has pushed investors to protect themselves against—or make money from—further falls in sterling. Avantika Chilkoti, WSJ, "As Brexit Drags On, Investors Seek More Protection," 20 Oct. 2018 That ambiguity has left room for Kavanaugh to be cast as the ethical equivalent of a human sweater. Lauren Duca, Teen Vogue, "The Nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court Feels Inevitable. But We Can Actually Stop Him.," 31 Aug. 2018 The computer system may never be perfect, since some ambiguities can’t be resolved by any kind of formal analysis. Ben Zimmer, The Atlantic, "How Computers Parse the Ambiguity of Everyday Language," 27 June 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

7 Jan 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 \
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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