Distinguishing Ambiguous from Ambivalent

Ambiguous vs Ambivalent

The difference between ambiguous and ambivalent is not difficult to understand if you focus on the meanings of the two words. Both terms are adjectives and some people might think they share the same meaning, but their meanings are actually different. Ambiguous refers to a feeling of uncertainty or it can be used when someone is vague or unsure about something. On the other hand, ambivalent refers to when a person has two choices and is indecisive about which one to choose.

What does Ambiguous mean?

As mentioned above, ambiguous refers to uncertainty or unclearness about something. The Oxford dictionary defines this term as having more than one meaning. Therefore, it is clear that there is unclearness about a particular thing if there is more than one interpretation of the same thing. An ambiguous statement is always subject to arguments and there can be a variation in meaning depending on the context it is used. Also, ambiguous things are more doubtful and open to debates. One can be ambiguous about a word or a situation or a mathematical equation or any other thing. For example, we can take the word “good.” If the word occurs alone, its meaning is very unclear. It could be referring to a quality: “She is a good girl,” a function: “This engine is good,” or as a statement of satisfactory: “The food is good.” The real meaning can be identified only with the context in which it has been used. Moreover, one can be ambiguous about the ending of a movie and also about a person’s behavior in a particular situation, etc. Similarly, ambiguity can be seen where there is no correct or clear answer for something.

What does Ambivalent mean?

The Oxford dictionary defines the word ambivalent as having mixed feelings about something. This means a person might be unable to choose between things and there we can see ambivalence in nature. For example, a person can be ambivalent about going to a new job. In this case, he/she may have two choices; either accept the job or not accept it. Therefore, the person might have mixed feelings about whether to accept the job or not. In this instance, we can say that he/she is ambivalent about the job. Furthermore, ambivalence can be defined as a state of having several conflicting arguments or beliefs or feelings towards an object. Here, we may see both positive and negative components. However, an ambivalent person can either make a decision or just leave both options away and look for another solution.

Key Takeaways

  • Ambiguity refers to the uncertainty or unclearness about something, whereas ambivalence is the confusion over two things.
  • Ambivalent is usually used to describe feelings, relationships, or attitudes, while ambiguous could be related to the behavior of people, things, and attitudes as well.
  • Depending on the context, we can decide whether to use ambivalent or ambiguous.
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


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