am·​big·​u·​ous | \ am-ˈbi-gyə-wəs How to pronounce ambiguous (audio) \

Essential Meaning of ambiguous

1 : able to be understood in more than one way : having more than one possible meaning We were confused by the ambiguous wording of the message. He looked at her with an ambiguous smile. Due to the ambiguous nature of the question, it was difficult to choose the right answer.
2 : not expressed or understood clearly He felt that his role in the company was becoming more ambiguous. [=uncertain] the ambiguous position of women in modern society

Full Definition of ambiguous

1a : doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness eyes of an ambiguous color
2 : capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways an ambiguous smile an ambiguous term a deliberately ambiguous reply

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Other Words from ambiguous

ambiguously adverb
ambiguousness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Frequently Asked Questions About ambiguous

Does ambiguous have the same meaning as unclear?

Ambiguous has, like many words in English, more than one possible meaning; a quality some might refer to as ambiguous itself. This word may mean "doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness," "capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways," and "inexplicable."

What is the difference between ambiguous and ambivalent?

The Latin prefix ambi- means "both," and has led to many people confusing ambiguous and ambivalent. Ambivalent refers to having mixed, contradictory, or more than one feeling about something (the second portion of this word comes from the Latin valere, "to be strong, be worth"). Ambiguous, on the other hand, means unclear or able to be understood in multiple ways (it comes in part from the Latin agere, meaning to drive").

What is the noun form of ambiguous?

Ambiguous_ is an adjective. The noun form related to this word may be either ambiguity or ambiguousness. The adverb is ambiguously.

Examples of ambiguous in a Sentence

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 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 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 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 We were confused by the ambiguous wording of the message. He looked at her with an ambiguous smile. Due to the ambiguous nature of the question, it was difficult to choose the right answer. the ambiguous position of women in modern society
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Recent Examples on the Web The theme is the absurd Hunger Games of modern fertility and maybe the evils of the patriarchy, or something; the movie's targets seem both ambiguous and broad. Leah Greenblatt,, 24 June 2021 Digital transformation may be the most overused, poorly understood and ambiguous term in today’s business vocabulary. Mark Settle, Forbes, 3 June 2021 Ozier has found the paper trail that might prove the latter to be ambiguous, at best. Rosalind Bentley, ajc, 24 Aug. 2021 Now, especially in its live show, U2 seems to shy away from everything ambiguous, ugly, and false—a problem for a band that wants to sing about love, beauty, and the state of the world. Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker, 8 Aug. 2021 Butler’s character is clearly intended to be morally ambiguous–with his hair in the trailer seeming to oscillate between pushed-back and slicked-back several times. Anne Victoria Clark, Vulture, 5 Aug. 2021 Over the past seven years, nearly all of pop music has cooled into something smoother, more midtempo, less intense, more ambiguous. Washington Post, 30 July 2021 The style is Delphic: cautious; obfuscatory; verbose (or the opposite, gnomic); vague; artfully ambiguous; subtle; fascinating. George Calhoun, Forbes, 10 May 2021 In the world of food, perhaps no dish has origins so ancient, ambiguous, or hotly contested as does falafel. Amanda Albee, Dallas News, 2 Apr. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ambiguous.' 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 ambiguous

1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ambiguous

Latin ambiguus "unresolved, hesitating in mind, of uncertain outcome, having more than one possible meaning, untrustworthy" (from ambigō, ambigere "to dispute, be undecided, call in question, be in doubt" —from amb- "around, about, on both sides" + agere "to drive [cattle], be in motion, do perform"— + -uus, deverbal adjective suffix) + -ous — more at ambient entry 1, agent

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The first known use of ambiguous was in 1528

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Last Updated

11 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ambiguous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for ambiguous


am·​big·​u·​ous | \ am-ˈbi-gyə-wəs How to pronounce ambiguous (audio) \

Kids Definition of ambiguous

: able to be understood in more than one way an ambiguous explanation

Other Words from ambiguous

ambiguously adverb answered ambiguously

More from Merriam-Webster on ambiguous

Nglish: Translation of ambiguous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ambiguous for Arabic Speakers


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