Ambiguous vs. Ambivalent

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The adjectives ambiguous and ambivalent both involve a degree of uncertainty, but the two words are not interchangeable.


The adjective ambiguous means doubtful or unclear, open to more than one interpretation.

The adjective ambivalent means holding opposing attitudes or feelings toward a person, object, or idea.


  • Jim Parsons
    Hold on. 'Bimonthly' is an ambiguous term. Do you mean every other month or twice a month?
  • David Carroll
    Even if we only briefly consider multiple meanings of ambiguous words, it is somewhat puzzling that we do it at all. After all, in most contexts only one of a word's meanings is relevant.
  • Vernon A. Walters
    Americans have always had an ambivalent attitude toward intelligence. When they feel threatened, they want a lot of it, and when they don't, they regard the whole thing as somewhat immoral.
  • Aeon J. Skoble​
    Thematically, film noir is typically said to be characterized by moral ambiguity: murky distinctions between good guys and bad guys, ambivalence about right and wrong, conflicts between law and morality, unsettling inversion of values, and so on.
  • Winona Ryder and Vanessa Redgrave​
    Susanna: I'm ambivalent. In fact, that's my new favorite word.
    Dr. Wick: Do you know what that means, ambivalence?
    Susanna: I don't care.
    Dr. Wick: If it's your favorite word, I would've thought you would.
    Susanna: It means "I don't care." That's what it means.
    Dr. Wick: On the contrary, Susanna. Ambivalence suggests strong feelings . . . in opposition. The prefix, as in "ambidextrous," means "both." The rest of it, in Latin, means "vigor." The word suggests that you are torn . . . between two opposing courses of action.
    Susanna: Will I stay or will I go?
    Dr. Wick: Am I sane . . . or, am I crazy?
    Susanna: Those aren't courses of action.
    Dr. Wick: They can be, dear--for some.
    Susanna: Well, then--it's the wrong word.
    Dr. Wick: No. I think it's perfect.
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Ambiguous vs. Ambivalent." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Ambiguous vs. Ambivalent. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Ambiguous vs. Ambivalent." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).