Definition of ambiguous
1a : doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness eyes of an ambiguous colorb : inexplicable
2 : capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways an ambiguous smile an ambiguous term a deliberately ambiguous reply
ambiguous was our Word of the Day on 04/24/2017. Hear the podcast!
Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP
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
Recent Examples of ambiguous from the Web
Many works of sound art explore the ambiguous boundaries between private and public, interior and exterior spaces, noise and music.
Read The New York Times's report on how the ambiguous ruling will impact refugees.
In the original, Clint Eastwood comes off more immediately sleazy and up to no good, whereas that was a little bit more ambiguous with Colin.
Like all of Turrell’s projects, the future of the Dorotheenstadt light show is ambiguous.
Emails and texts often come across as more ambiguous — or mean-spirited — than intended.
Brexit, together with Trump’s ambiguous attitude toward Russia and the defense of Europe, means that many in the EU believe that the time is right to start the initiative.
Some of the language, however, is relatively ambiguous.
Schock argued in an April filing that the charges are based on ambiguous House spending rules.
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.
ambiguous vs. ambivalent
The difficulty that many people have in distinguishing between ambiguous and ambivalent shows that all that is needed to create confusion with words is to begin them with several of the same letters. In spite of the fact that these two words have histories, meanings, and origins that are fairly distinct, people often worry about mistakenly using one for the other.
Dating to the 16th century, ambiguous is quite a bit older than ambivalent, which appears to have entered English in the jargon of early 20th-century psychologists. Both words are in some fashion concerned with duality: ambivalent relates to multiple and contradictory feelings, whereas ambiguous often describes something with several possible meanings that create uncertainty.
The words’ etymologies offer some help in distinguishing between them. Their shared prefix, ambi-, means "both." The -valent in ambivalent comes from the Late Latin valentia ("power") and, in combination with ambi-, suggests the pull of two different emotions. The -guous in ambiguous, on the other hand, comes ultimately from Latin agere ("to drive, to lead"); paired with ambi-, it suggests movement in two directions at once, and hence, a wavering or uncertainty.
Synonym Discussion of ambiguous
AMBIGUOUS Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of ambiguous for English Language Learners
: able to be understood in more than one way : having more than one possible meaning
: not expressed or understood clearly
AMBIGUOUS Defined for Kids
Definition of ambiguous for Students
: able to be understood in more than one way an ambiguous explanation
ambiguouslyadverb answered ambiguously
Seen and Heard
What made you want to look up ambiguous? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).