ambiguous

adjective
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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Attention turned to the library budget, which appeared to be a little ambiguous — an accounting issue. Sarah Lyall, New York Times, "In Bernie Sanders Country, It’s Super Tuesday. It’s Also ‘Town Meeting Day.’," 3 Mar. 2020 The deal excluded the Afghan government and left many critical points ambiguous — including the fate of prisoners. Fatima Faizi, BostonGlobe.com, "Afghan peace plan faces its first roadblock: releasing Taliban prisoners," 1 Mar. 2020 Rules and regulations often are ambiguous by design because societies want flexibility in implementing them. Karuna Pande Joshi, The Conversation, "AI could constantly scan the internet for data privacy violations, a quicker, easier way to enforce compliance," 7 Feb. 2020 Antonio’s charismatic, non-stop banter is highly ambiguous. Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Mayor of Rione Sanita' ('Il sindaco di Rione Sanita'): Film Review | Venice 2019," 30 Aug. 2019 Something that was so ambiguous then is very clear now. Julie Mazziotta, PEOPLE.com, "Olympian Ashley Wagner Says She Was Sexually Assaulted at 17 by Fellow Skater John Coughlin," 1 Aug. 2019 Something that was so ambiguous then is very clear now. Cnn.com Wire Service, The Mercury News, "After fellow skater kills himself, Ashley Wagner says he sexually assaulted her," 1 Aug. 2019 Hargrave says that ambiguous ending evolved over the course of the film’s development and through its filming, with different versions being shot along the way. Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times, "‘Extraction’ ending explained: Will there be a sequel to the Netflix action movie?," 24 Apr. 2020 Themes of deceit and disillusionment, delivered in an ambiguous tone, characterize all of Herz’s subsequent films. Jeremy Lybarger, The New York Review of Books, "The Mordant Fables of Juraj Herz," 20 Apr. 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.

See More

First Known Use of ambiguous

1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ambiguous

Latin ambiguus, from ambigere to be undecided, from ambi- + agere to drive — more at agent

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ambiguous

Time Traveler for ambiguous

Time Traveler

The first known use of ambiguous was in 1528

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about ambiguous

Statistics for ambiguous

Last Updated

18 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ambiguous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ambiguous. Accessed 24 May. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for ambiguous

ambiguous

adjective
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

ambiguous

adjective
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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on ambiguous

What made you want to look up ambiguous? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Obscure Shapes

  • a pile of three dimensional shapes in green
  • Something that is ooid is shaped like:
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Citation

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!