adjective equiv·o·cal \ i-ˈkwi-və-kəl \
|Updated on: 30 Jul 2018

Definition of equivocal

1 a : subject to two or more interpretations and usually used to mislead or confuse
  • an equivocal statement
b : uncertain as an indication or sign
  • equivocal evidence
2 a : of uncertain nature or classification
  • equivocal shapes
b : of uncertain disposition toward a person or thing : undecided
  • an equivocal attitude
c : 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

equivocal was our Word of the Day on 04/07/2013. Hear the podcast!

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 PerlNew Republic20 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 CowlingTimes Literary Supplement8 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 RosenblumA World History of Photography1989
  4. He responded to reporters' questions with equivocal answers.

  5. The experiment produced equivocal results.

Recent Examples of equivocal from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'equivocal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

When Should You Use equivocate and equivocal?

With its root equi-, meaning "equal", equivocate suggests speaking on both sides of an issue at the same time. An equivocal answer is one that manages not to take a stand; an unequivocal answer, by contrast, is strong and clear. Politicians are famous for equivocating, but equivocation is also typical of used-car salesmen, nervous witnesses in a courtroom, and guys whose girlfriends ask them how committed they are to a relationship.

Origin and Etymology of equivocal

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

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


Definition of equivocal for English Language Learners

  • : having two or more possible meanings

  • : not easily understood or explained

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