am·​bi·​gu·​i·​ty ˌam-bə-ˈgyü-ə-tē How to pronounce ambiguity (audio)
plural ambiguities
: the quality or state of being ambiguous especially in meaning
The ambiguity of the poem allows several interpretations.
: 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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web By using these strategies, leaders can successfully manage ambiguity, take advantage of new opportunities and guide their groups toward achievement. Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.d, Forbes, 28 Nov. 2023 His bracingly clear prose imbues the story’s ambiguities with a profundity both revelatory and familiar. Condé Nast, The New Yorker, 27 Nov. 2023 The line between recouping costs and penalizing workers for leaving can be blurry, and companies have increasingly taken advantage of that ambiguity. Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, New York Times, 20 Nov. 2023 House Republicans’ election of Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana as the chamber’s new speaker almost surely will complicate such efforts at defensive ambiguity, which already faced skepticism from many voters. David Lauter, Los Angeles Times, 27 Oct. 2023 In a way, the entire scenario benefits from ambiguity, which allows for certain almost-supernatural details, like a herd of deer that gather in the woods behind the house, staring menacingly at the humans. Peter Debruge, Variety, 26 Oct. 2023 This ambiguity could easily be solved by releasing sufficiently detailed concussion data. James M. Smoliga, Dvm, Ars Technica, 10 Nov. 2023 This ambiguity is a sticking point for practitioners, as each dose of Beyfortus costs $495. Rachel Murphy, Verywell Health, 5 Nov. 2023 There is something particularly Italian in the ambiguity of the films’ depiction of good and evil. Leo Barraclough, Variety, 1 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ambiguity.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English ambiguyte, anbiguite "uncertainty, indecision," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French ambiguité "doubtfulness of meaning, uncertainty," borrowed from Latin ambiguitāt-, ambiguitās, from ambiguus "unresolved, of uncertain outcome, ambiguous" + -itāt-, -itās -ity

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of ambiguity was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near ambiguity

Cite this Entry

“Ambiguity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


plural ambiguities
: the fact or state of being ambiguous
: something ambiguous

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