Are you trying to determine the key differences between “vague” and “ambiguity”? Well, you’ve come to the right place.
This article will look at what the two words mean. We’ll also cover how to use them correctly and whether they overlap at all.
Vague vs. Ambiguous – What’s the Difference?
“Vague” means that you lack detail in your explanation of something. E.g., “it’s a vague recollection” implies that you don’t have all the details. “Ambiguous” means that there could be multiple meanings because you have not explained yourself well. E.g., “what you’ve said is too ambiguous.”
Check out these examples to see more about how they work:
- I don’t want to be too vague. I think we need to figure out the precise details here.
- You gave me an ambiguous answer. I don’t know how I’m supposed to decide what to do.
They are generally not synonymous. They do not mean exactly the same thing, although vagueness is a form of ambiguity. After all, if you are too vague about your explanation, it could be open for interpretation (which implies it’s ambiguous).
Keep reading to learn more about the two words. We’ve explored how they work in different contexts as well.
Let’s start with “vague.” It means that something is not clearly defined. This tends to happen when someone rushes an explanation or skips over details. The result is the reader or listener will struggle to figure out what you’re trying to say.
- You are being quite vague right now. I would love it if you could give me more details before moving on.
- I’m afraid the methods were vague, as nobody wrote them down. We didn’t have much to go on.
The definition of “vague,” according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “not clearly expressed.”
So, when something is vague, it implies that it’s not completely defined or expressed. Precision is missing from vague recounts.
“Ambiguous” means that something is open for interpretation. So, you can use it to show that there are two or more possible solutions to a problem since someone did not explain their situation appropriately.
Here’s how you might be able to use it in a sentence:
- The results were too ambiguous. Unfortunately, we have not been able to come to a conclusion.
- You’ve made all of this very ambiguous. I’m not sure what you want me to take away from this.
The definition of “ambiguous,” according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways.”
Generally, ambiguity comes from failing to define or explain something. It suggests that you haven’t given the reader all the details, meaning they must make their own conclusions.
We also want to go through “unclear.” It’s quite similar to both words, but there’s a key difference you need to know about.
“Unclear” means that something is difficult to understand, often implying that it’s confusing. Most readers will not interpret unclear messages correctly.
- I find it too unclear to follow. Therefore, I don’t know what you expect me to get from this information.
- You’re retelling is unclear. Were you in the room at the time or not? That’s what I need to know.
The definition of “unclear,” according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “difficult to understand.”
“Unclear” is a form of both vagueness and ambiguity. It simply shows that you missed vital information in your explanation. If you do that, it leaves the reader with the difficult task of trying to fill in the gaps, which is more confusing than it needs to be.
“Vague” means that you have skipped over details. It implies that you were not precise in your explanation of something.
“Ambiguous” suggests that there are multiple answers to interpret. This generally happens when you have left things open to someone’s imagination rather than explaining things correctly.
“Unclear” means that something is confusing or intelligible. It basically shows that you failed to explain something correctly.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.