am·​big·​u·​ous | \ am-ˈbi-gyə-wəs How to pronounce ambiguous (audio) \

Essential Meaning of ambiguous

1 : able to be understood in more than one way : having more than one possible meaning 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.
2 : not expressed or understood clearly He felt that his role in the company was becoming more ambiguous. [=uncertain] the ambiguous position of women in modern society

Full 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

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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
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Recent Examples on the Web Vincent’s quasi-paternal role to the young men under his command is also ambiguous—one of them, behind his back, suggests that Vincent is gay—and the arrival of Adrien disrupts and reorients the entourage. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 5 Oct. 2021 The end is ambiguous, leaving the door open for two sequels released in 1998 and 2006. Patrick Connolly,, 1 Oct. 2021 Mark Rienzi, president of the religious liberty law firm Becket Fund, said that the Supreme Court’s view on the issue is not ambiguous. Dallas News, 23 Sep. 2021 Much of the film is ambiguous, allowing the viewer to come to conclusions about dysfunction, family, escape. Jd Linville, Variety, 21 Sep. 2021 That night, some fans protested that Chase had opted for an ambiguous ending to leave the door open for a film. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 1 Sep. 2021 Below, the Bly Manor actress opens up about Dani's sacrifice, explains why the character's queerness isn't a central part of her identity, and offers her own interpretation of the show's ambiguous ending. Chloe Foussianes, Town & Country, 17 Oct. 2020 The ending is ambiguous enough to be refreshingly un-clichéd. Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times, 24 Sep. 2021 Drew Shindell, professor of climate science at Duke University and chair of the Global Methane Assessment for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, said the pledge appears to be intentionally ambiguous. Scott Waldman, Scientific American, 9 Sep. 2021

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.

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First Known Use of ambiguous

1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ambiguous

Latin ambiguus "unresolved, hesitating in mind, of uncertain outcome, having more than one possible meaning, untrustworthy" (from ambigō, ambigere "to dispute, be undecided, call in question, be in doubt" —from amb- "around, about, on both sides" + agere "to drive [cattle], be in motion, do perform"— + -uus, deverbal adjective suffix) + -ous — more at ambient entry 1, agent

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The first known use of ambiguous was in 1528

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Last Updated

17 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ambiguous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for ambiguous


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

More from Merriam-Webster on ambiguous

Nglish: Translation of ambiguous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ambiguous for Arabic Speakers


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