Ambiguity Definition

An ambiguous phrase or statement has more than one meaning, or fallacy of ambiguity.Using vague words or statements can lead to vagueness and confusion, which can create unintentional humor.Saying "I rode a black horse in red pajamas" may lead us to think that the horse was dressed in red pajamas.As the sentence is restructured, "I rode a black horse wearing red pajamas.", it becomes clearer.

Common Ambiguity Examples


Liver is important for a good lifeThose who hunt foreign dogs are foreignersHer duck was in each of our sightsBystander helped dog bite victim

Examples of Ambiguity in Literature


Example #1: The Catcher in the Rye (By J. D. Salinger)

The Catcher in The Rye“I ran all the way to the main gate, and then I waited a second till I got my breath. I have no wind, if you want to know the truth. I’m quite a heavy smoker, for one thing—that is, I used to be. They made me cut it out. Another thing, I grew six and a half inches last year. That’s also how I practically got t.b. and came out here for all these goddam checkups and stuff. I’m pretty healthy though.”The words “they” and “here” used by the speaker are ambiguous. But the readers are allowed to presume from the context that “they” might be the professionals helping out Holden, and “here” might be a rehabilitation center.

Example #2: The Sick Rose (By William Blake)


The Sick Rose, a short lyric written by William Blake, is full of ambiguities:“O Rose thou art sick.The invisible worm,That flies in the nightIn the howling storm:Has found out thy bedOf crimson joy;And his dark secret loveDoes thy life destroy”Many of the words in the above lines show ambiguity. We cannot say for sure what ” bed of crimson joy” means; neither can we be exact about the interpretation of “dark secret love.” The ambiguous nature of such phrases allows readers to explore for deeper meanings of the poem.Some of those who have analyzed this poem believe that “Has found out thy bed / Of crimson joy” refers to making love.

Example #3: Hamlet (By William Shakespeare)


On a larger scale, ambiguity may develop in a character, or in an entire story. For instance, Hamlet is a morally ambiguous character.He kills to avenge his father’s murderHe is good because he wants to protect his motherHe is bad because he is willing to kill whom he must to achieve this endThe ambiguity in Hamlet’s character is seen when he is hurt by the death of Ophelia, which is his personal loss, but he does not appreciate the effect that his actions are going to have on others.

Example #4: Ode to a Grecian Urn (By John Keats)

We find ambiguity in the first line of Keats’ Ode to a Grecian Urn:“Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness…”The use of the word “still” is ambiguous in nature. Here, it may mean “an unmoving object,” or it may be interpreted as “yet unchanged.”

Function of Ambiguity


Ambiguity in literature serves the purpose of lending a deeper meaning to a literary work. By introducing ambiguity in their works, writers give liberty to readers to use their imagination to explore meanings. This active participation of the readers involves them in the prose or poetry they read.