Some words have related meanings to a certain degree, causing people to get confused with using them. This is the case with the terms ambiguous and ambivalent as they both pertain to a degree of uncertainty. They also both start with “ambi,” which adds to the confusion. Despite the similarities, these words have certain distinctions in usage and meaning. This post will guide you on how to properly use ambiguous and ambivalent in your writing.
The term ambiguous is used as an adjective meaning “doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness” or “capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways.” It is used to describe things, situations, or events but should not be used to describe people.
The Mentor, theatre review: F Murray Abraham gives an intriguingly ambiguous performance
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On the other hand, the word ambivalent is an adjective referring to “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings such as attraction and repulsion toward an object, person, or action.” It generally describes a person or a person’s attitude.
DOC issues ambivalent coal mine submission
Radio New Zealand
Austria wasn’t ‘ambivalent’ about Nazis
Petraeus: US ‘ambivalent’ about defense even as threats increase
In essence, you may say people may be ambivalent while statements and assertions may be ambiguous. In order to avoid confusion when using these words, it is good practice to consider what you are describing. If you are referring to something that is unclear, then it is ambiguous, but when you are referring to a person’s mixed feelings or attitude, then it is ambivalent. Now that we learned about the differences between the two words, we won’t be ambivalent about how ambiguous their meanings are.