Ambiguity is when the meaning of a word, phrase, or sentence is uncertain. There could be more than one meaning.
Typically, it is best to avoid ambiguity in your writing. When you make statements that are ambiguous, you confuse the reader and hinder the meaning of the text. However, sometimes ambiguity is used deliberately to add humor to a text.
Sarah gave a bath to her dog wearing a pink t-shirt.
Ambiguity: Is the dog wearing the pink t-shirt?
I have never tasted a cake quite like that one before!
Ambiguity: Was the cake good or bad?
Did you see her dress?
Ambiguity: Is she getting dressed or are they talking about her clothes?
Examples of Ambiguity in Literature and Speech
In "The Rose" by William Blake, there is enough ambiguity about what is meant by "rose," "sick," "bed of joy," and "worm," that the poem is open to many interpretations:
"O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy"
From Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare-Mercutio is dying from his wound, but he attempts to remain lighthearted. The word "grave" has an ambiguous meaning: Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.
Literary Terms Examples