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: doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness
eyes of an ambiguous color
: capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways
an ambiguous smile
an ambiguous term
a deliberately ambiguous reply
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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
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
Recent Examples on the Web Trump is notoriously mercurial and left himself something of an out to change his mind with an ambiguous post on his website, Truth Social, on Thursday. — Maggie Haberman, BostonGlobe.com, 18 Aug. 2023 Market watchers say the methodology on sampling and index calculation remain ambiguous. — Bloomberg, Fortune, 17 Aug. 2023 People want explanations for ambiguous situations, and they’re easily influenced by others. — Mary Magnuson, Discover Magazine, 15 Aug. 2023
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
First Known Use
1528, in the meaning defined at sense 1a
The first known use of ambiguous was in 1528