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

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 More importantly, the role of anger in her characters’ lives is complex and ambiguous; even in a time of interest in politically powerful feminist anger, Ferrante’s books can quickly still any simple impulse to celebrate women’s fury. Elaine Blair, The New York Review of Books, "Making Order of the Breakdown," 8 Sep. 2020 Last month, Colorado’s Durango Herald published an editorial chiding national news outlets for harping on Boebert’s ambiguous praise of QAnon. Elahe Izadi, Washington Post, "The QAnon problem facing local journalism this election season," 4 Sep. 2020 The one thing where guidelines are a bit ambiguous is use of a face mask. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "What experts are saying about opening schools amid COVID-19," 26 Aug. 2020 Yet the memoir is ambiguous as to whether there’s such a thing as true autonomy, for art or individuals. Lidija Haas, Harper's Magazine, "New Books," 18 Aug. 2020 Such distinctions are ambiguous between a father and a little son. Catherine Cusick, Longreads, "25 Movies and the Magazine Stories That Inspired Them," 10 Aug. 2020 The statute conceived after the 1876 election is ambiguous as to what comes next, Foley says, and would require congressional fixes. CBS News, "What happens if the president doesn't accept the election results?," 23 July 2020 But below that ceiling, the effect of the minimum wage is ambiguous. The Economist, "Raising the floor What harm do minimum wages do?," 15 Aug. 2020 For years, many insurance firms have refused to reimburse patients for surgery unless they are hospitalized, while others hinged rejections on the ambiguous language in their policies. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz India, "India’s overburdened hospitals could actually benefit from more elective surgeries," 9 Aug. 2020

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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Time Traveler for ambiguous

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The first known use of ambiguous was in 1528

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Last Updated

10 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ambiguous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for ambiguous


How to pronounce ambiguous (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ambiguous

: able to be understood in more than one way : having more than one possible meaning
: not expressed or understood clearly


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

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