adjective equiv·o·cal \i-ˈkwi-və-kəl\

Definition of equivocal

  1. 1a :  subject to two or more interpretations and usually used to mislead or confuse an equivocal statementb :  uncertain as an indication or sign equivocal evidence

  2. 2a :  of uncertain nature or classification equivocal shapesb :  of uncertain disposition toward a person or thing :  undecided an equivocal attitudec :  of doubtful advantage, genuineness, or moral rectitude equivocal behavior


play \i-ˌkwi-və-ˈka-lə-tē\ noun


play \i-ˈkwi-və-k(ə-)lē\ adverb


play \i-ˈkwi-və-kəl-nəs\ noun

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Examples of equivocal in a sentence

  1. When I go to galleries to see new art.  … I don't care about what I see unless it holds my eye, and that is an almost involuntary experience; but once something has that hold on me—even in a tentative, equivocal way—other factors come into play, and I find myself reaching for analogies, ideas, theories. —Jed Perl, New Republic, 20 Mar. 2000

  2. He [Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec] frequented the sleazy underworld of Paris, but moved in top circles too, and by virtue of his equivocal status as a landed gentleman-turned-bohemian artist, was sufficiently an outsider to be a detached observer of the diverse social classes among whom he ranged so freely. —Elizabeth Cowling, Times Literary Supplement, 8 Nov. 1991

  3. … in the past, photographs of real situations in color have invited a sense of ambiguity, an element of distrust on the part of viewers, perhaps because the saturated dyes of color film seem to have an equivocal relationship to the harsher realities of social conditions. —Naomi Rosenblum, A World History of Photography, 1989

  4. He responded to reporters' questions with equivocal answers.

  5. The experiment produced equivocal results.

Origin and Etymology of equivocal

Late Latin aequivocus, from aequi- equi- + voc-, vox voice — more at voice

First Known Use: 1599

Synonym Discussion of equivocal

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

EQUIVOCAL Defined for English Language Learners


adjective equiv·o·cal \i-ˈkwi-və-kəl\

Definition of equivocal for English Language Learners

  • : having two or more possible meanings

  • : not easily understood or explained

Seen and Heard

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


feeling or affected by lethargy

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