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[am-big-yoo-uh s] /æmˈbɪg yu əs/
open to or having several possible meanings or interpretations; equivocal:
an ambiguous answer.
Linguistics. (of an expression) exhibiting constructional homonymity; having two or more structural descriptions, as the sequence Flying planes can be dangerous.
of doubtful or uncertain nature; difficult to comprehend, distinguish, or classify:
a rock of ambiguous character.
lacking clearness or definiteness; obscure; indistinct:
an ambiguous shape; an ambiguous future.
Origin of ambiguous
1520-30; < Latin ambiguus, equivalent to ambig(ere) be uncertain (amb- ambi- + -igere combining form of agere to drive, lead, act) + -uus deverbal adj. suffix; see -ous
Related forms
ambiguously, adverb
ambiguousness, noun
unambiguous, adjective
Can be confused
ambiguous, ambivalent.
1. ambiguous, equivocal, cryptic, enigmatic describe conditions or statements not clear in meaning. ambiguous can refer to a statement, act, or attitude that is capable of two or more often contradictory interpretations, usually accidentally or unintentionally so: an ambiguous passage in the preamble. equivocal, usually applied to spoken as well as written language, also means susceptible of two or more interpretations, and it usually suggests a deliberate intent to mislead by avoiding clarity: saving face with an equivocal response to an embarrassing question. cryptic usually refers to intentional obscurity, especially in language, and often implies a private or hidden meaning but stresses resultant mystification or puzzlement: a cryptic remark that left us struggling to interpret his intention. enigmatic focuses on perplexity resulting from a mysterious or imponderable event or utterance, often one of great importance or deep significance: prophetic texts so enigmatic that their meaning has been disputed for centuries. 3. dubious, vague, indeterminate, unclassifiable, anomalous. 4. puzzling, enigmatic, problematic.
1. explicit. 3. certain. 4. clear, precise, unambiguous. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for ambiguous
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • This was too ambiguous for the other leaders, and the opportunity was allowed to pass.

  • “Possibly,” said he, with an ambiguous half smile, which I did not understand.

    The First Violin Jessie Fothergill
  • All that had been alien or ambiguous became as close and true and simple as the thoughts in her own mind.

    One Man in His Time Ellen Glasgow
  • Such are the modes in which propositions and terms may be ambiguous.'

    Euthydemus Plato
  • But he gave them an ambiguous little grimace which was meant to suggest a minor but sticky snarl behind the scenes.

    A Mixture of Genius Arnold Castle
British Dictionary definitions for ambiguous


having more than one possible interpretation or meaning
difficult to understand or classify; obscure
Derived Forms
ambiguously, adverb
ambiguousness, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Latin ambiguus going here and there, uncertain, from ambigere to go around, from ambi- + agere to lead, act
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for ambiguous

1520s, from Latin ambiguus "having double meaning, shifting, changeable, doubtful," adjective derived from ambigere "to dispute about," literally "to wander," from ambi- "about" (see ambi-) + agere "drive, lead, act" (see act). Sir Thomas More (1528) seems to have first used it in English, but ambiguity dates back to c.1400. Related: Ambiguously; ambiguousness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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