Is there a better alternative to ambiguous for a word with a wide range of meanings, difficult to find, because they become different in connection with person's opinion.


5 Answers 5


Polysemy - "a diversity of meanings"

A word is polysemous if it has a diversity of meanings.


If a word is used in a sentence and the meaning of that word in that sentence is not obvious, I would say the sentence is ambiguous, rather than saying the word is ambiguous. For example, "I overlooked the valley." (Did you look at it, or completely miss noticing it?) or "Man was here first" (Was a man here before a woman, or was mankind here before an animal?)

A word is polysemous if it has multiple meanings, but that often doesn't mean ambiguous -- it is almost always easy to determine the meaning of a word from its context.

  • However, @Jeremy, I think OP's idea was basically what polysemy denotes.
    – Kris
    Apr 24, 2012 at 15:22
  • 1
    @Kris could be. It looked to me that he was looking for "sneaky" phrasing.
    – Jeremy
    Apr 24, 2012 at 15:25
  • @Jeremy - Polysemous is technical (linguists) use. If the context is not a technical one, then readers are very likely to be confused or at least taken aback. However, in 'normal' speaking, no one would have the slightest clue what you're talking about if you say 'polysemous'.
    – user19148
    Apr 24, 2012 at 15:49
  • "a word with a wide range of meanings, difficult to find, because they become different in connection with person's opinion." Polysemy describes it perfectly, because depending on the person, it could have any of a range of meanings. Apr 25, 2012 at 5:19


is a good single word to describe a word having multiple meanings. 'Polysemous' is the technically correct word but is jargon for linguists.

Other words for indicating that one meaning has not been specified are



but they aren't specifically about multiple meanings.

But one can be direct and just say 'That word has multiple meanings'.

  • Something can be ambiguous while having only one meaning. For instance if I say "my brother" but I have two brothers.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 16 at 21:38

Not a single word, but "open to interpretation" is a phrase that means what you're trying to say.


Another technical term for this is polysemantic, which means having multiple meanings.

Source: http://www.memidex.com/polysemantic (originally from Princeton WordNet). A related noun could be polysemant (same source).


Intelligence is a polysemantic word.

  • This has the makings of a good answer; you could improve it by including references or examples to back up your assertion. (I know we could look the word up ourselves in this case, but it's a good habit and is often seen as a requirement for authoritative contributions here. You'll be given a bit more slack with comments.)
    – JHCL
    Oct 9, 2015 at 14:21
  • @JHCL Updated my answer.
    – A.P.
    Oct 9, 2015 at 14:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.