What is Ambiguity?

Meaning of Ambiguity

Ambiguity or amphibology is the name given, within linguistics, to the duplicity of meanings , where some terms, expressions, sentences have more than one possible meaning.

In other words, it occurs when, due to lack of clarity, there is duplication of meaning in the sentence . Despite being an acceptable resource within poetic or literary language , it should be avoided in most cases in textual constructions of a technical, informative or pragmatic nature.

The ambiguity can be in words, phrases, expressions, or entire sentences. It is quite applicable in literary, poetic or humorous texts, but should be avoided in scientific or journalistic texts, for example.

Ambiguity is also a noun that names the lack of clarity in an expression .

  • Example: ” Peter told his friend that he had arrived .” (Who had arrived? Pedro or his friend?).

Lexical and Structural Ambiguity

An ambiguous expression or text can take two forms: structural ambiguity and lexical ambiguity.


The structural one causes ambiguity due to the position of the words in a sentence, which generates a misunderstanding of their meaning.

  • Example: “ The cell phone has become a great ally of man, but it does not always perform all its tasks ”.

The word “ his ” can refer to both the cell phone and the man, making direct interpretation of the sentence difficult and causing ambiguity .

Lexical ambiguity is when a given word takes on two or more meanings, as with polysemy , for example.

  • Example: “ The boy asked the waiter for a plate ”.

In the example above, the word “ plate ” can refer to the object where the food is placed or to a type of food.

Ambiguity and Amphibology

In grammar, ambiguity, or amphibology , every double meaning is caused by misconstruction of the sentence.

The function of ambiguity is to suggest different meanings for the same message. It is a figure of speech and construction.

Although it functions as a stylistic device, ambiguity can also be a language addiction , resulting from the displacement of the word in the sentence. In this case, it compromises the meaning of the sentence.

  • Example: “The guard arrested the suspect at his home.” (Whose house is it: the guard or the suspect?).

Ambiguity and Polysemy

The fact that a word has many meanings is also called polysemy .

The word ” candle “, for example, can refer to the ship ‘s sail , the wax candle (used to illuminate), or it can be the conjugation of the verb to watch, which means ” to be alert “.

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