equiv·​o·​cal | \i-ˈkwi-və-kəl \

Definition of equivocal 

1a : 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

2a : 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

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Other Words from equivocal

equivocality \ i-​ˌkwi-​və-​ˈka-​lə-​tē \ noun
equivocally \ i-​ˈkwi-​və-​k(ə-​)lē \ adverb
equivocalness \ i-​ˈkwi-​və-​kəl-​nəs \ noun

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

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.

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Even his characterization of North Korea as a brutal dictatorship had grown more equivocal after meeting its 34-year-old leader. Washington Post, BostonGlobe.com, "Little mention of human rights at Trump-Kim summit," 13 June 2018 Republicans in Illinois are unlikely to be won back by the governor’s equivocal support for President Donald Trump. The Economist, "Bruce Rauner discovers bipartisanship," 5 July 2018 Collins was equivocal when asked about Kavanaugh in the Capitol on Tuesday morning. Nash Jenkins, Time, "Here's What the Key Senators Think About Brett Kavanaugh Right Now," 10 July 2018 Kudos remains equivocal about freedom; Cusk knows better than to glorify taking a hammer to your life. Jordan Larson, The Cut, "Rachel Cusk’s Rules for Living," 25 June 2018 Even his characterization of North Korea as a brutal dictatorship had grown more equivocal after meeting its 34-year-old leader. Washington Post, BostonGlobe.com, "Little mention of human rights at Trump-Kim summit," 13 June 2018 Even his characterization of North Korea as a brutal dictatorship had grown more equivocal after meeting its 34-year-old leader. David Nakamura, chicagotribune.com, "Once forceful on North Korean human rights abuses, Trump is mostly mum during summit with Kim," 12 June 2018 The Obama administration probably would have been more equivocal and called for restraint, but a major policy shift would have been unlikely. Daniel Byman, Vox, "Trump and Obama both ignored Gaza — at great cost," 15 May 2018 Here again, the data have proved equivocal: There has not been a consistent or meaningful decline in support for democracy across multiple countries. John Sides, Washington Post, "New study finds increase in support for democracy — but weaker support among politically disengaged and conservatives," 13 Mar. 2018

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.

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First Known Use of equivocal

1599, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for equivocal

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

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Last Updated

5 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for equivocal

The first known use of equivocal was in 1599

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More Definitions for equivocal



English Language Learners Definition of equivocal

: having two or more possible meanings

: not easily understood or explained

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Comments on equivocal

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


playful or foolish behavior

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