equiv·​o·​cal i-ˈkwi-və-kəl How to pronounce equivocal (audio)
: subject to two or more interpretations and usually used to mislead or confuse
an equivocal statement
: uncertain as an indication or sign
equivocal evidence
: of uncertain nature or classification
equivocal shapes
: of uncertain disposition toward a person or thing : undecided
an equivocal attitude
: of doubtful advantage, genuineness, or moral rectitude
equivocal behavior
equivocality noun
equivocally adverb
equivocalness noun

Did you know?

If you're unsure about how to use equivocal properly, it may help to first remember its antonym, unequivocal, which is without a doubt the more common word of the two. As unequivocal means "leaving no doubt" or "unquestionable," it stands to reason that equivocal applies to language that is open to multiple, often differing interpretations. Equivocal can also have a sinister slant: equivocal language is usually used to mislead or confuse, its vagueness allowing the speaker to avoid committing to a firm position or opinion, and to later disavow anything listeners found objectionable if need be. To use a related verb, politicians are often accused of equivocating when, for example, they respond to yes-or-no questions with rambling, unrelated anecdotes.

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Examples of equivocal in a Sentence

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
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
… 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
He responded to reporters' questions with equivocal answers. The experiment produced equivocal results.
Recent Examples on the Web The new study examined the biomarkers of consciousness during cardiac arrest and CPR. Detecting Signs of Consciousness The results from the first study were equivocal. Avery Hurt, Discover Magazine, 2 Nov. 2023 By day’s end, his tone was far less equivocal, citing a U.S. military evaluation of the explosion, which Palestinians said killed hundreds. Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times, 18 Oct. 2023 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed support for Finland’s bid but has been more equivocal about Sweden’s application. Drew Harwell, Washington Post, 18 Feb. 2023 On personality, though, Ramaswamy was more equivocal. Tal Axelrod, ABC News, 21 June 2023 However, YouTube remained equivocal about whether the ban would be permanent. Adi Robertson, The Verge, 17 Mar. 2023 But Hungary — already isolated from its NATO and European Union allies because of its equivocal stand on the war — has doubled down. Andrew Higgins, New York Times, 15 Mar. 2023 Siegal is gentle but unsparing in pointing out that the truth is more equivocal. Ruth Franklin, Washington Post, 1 Mar. 2023 Yet the president can sound equivocal. Arkansas Online, 20 Nov. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'equivocal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1599, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of equivocal was in 1599


Dictionary Entries Near equivocal

Cite this Entry

“Equivocal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equivocal. Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


equiv·​o·​cal i-ˈkwiv-ə-kəl How to pronounce equivocal (audio)
: having two or more possible meanings : ambiguous
an equivocal answer
: not easily or definitely understood : uncertain, doubtful
an equivocal result
: suspicious sense 1, questionable
equivocal behavior
equivocally adverb
equivocalness noun

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