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What’s the Difference Between Ambiguous & Ambivalent?

Ambiguous vs. Ambivalent

Are ambiguous and ambivalent the same?

Something ambiguous (an adjective) is unclear, vague and open to different interpretations. To be ambivalent (also an adjective) means to have mixed or uncertain feelings about or towards something or someone.

The distinction between them is clearer in application:

Her account of the event was deliberately ambiguous.

She seems to feel ambivalent about her new job.

So, in sum, ambiguous applies more fittingly to describe unclear situations or events; whereas ‘ambivalent’ more appropriately describes personal feelings of uncertainty or confusion.

“Ambiguous” / “ambivalent”, used in sentences

Examples: “ambiguous” used in sentences
The paragraph is rendered ambiguous by the writer’s careless use of pronouns.

It is for the jury to decide what an ambiguous statement was intended to mean.

His role has always been ambiguous.
Examples: “ambivalent” used in sentences

He has an ambivalent attitude towards her.

The party’s position on nuclear weapons is deeply ambivalent.

She is deeply ambivalent about her feelings for him.

Ambiguous, synonyms

  • cryptic
  • dubious
  • enigmatic
  • equivocal
  • inconclusive
  • obscure
  • opaque
  • puzzling
  • questionable
  • uncertain
  • unclear
  • vague

Ambivalent, synonyms

  • contradictory
  • doubtful
  • equivocal
  • hesitant
  • mixed
  • uncertain
  • undecided
  • unsure

Word origin

“Of doubtful or uncertain nature, open to various interpretations,” 1520s, from Latin ambiguus “having double meaning, shifting, changeable, doubtful,” an adjective derived from ambigere.

“Having simultaneous conflicting feelings or contradictory ideas about something,” 1916, originally a term in psychology; a back-formation from ambivalence. In general use by 1929.

Read about other misused words

Commonly misused wordsUK English vs. US English
former vs. latterburned or burnt?
bear with vs. bare withcolor or colour?
breathe or breathfavorite vs. favourite
compliment vs. complementsmelled or smelt?
effect vs. affectgray or grey?
elude or alludefavor vs. favour
it’s or itsanalyze or analyse?


  1. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary on “ambivalent” and “ambiguous”. Accessed 19 April, 2024.
  2. Harper, Douglas. “Etymology of ambivalent.” Online Etymology Dictionary, Accessed 19 April, 2024.

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