Ambiguity Law & Legal Definition


Ambiguity means vagueness or uncertainty of meaning, the possibility of interpreting an expression in two or more distinct ways. In the context of statutory interpretation, ambiguity is used to indicate the doubt a judge must entertain before s/he can search for or apply a secondary meaning. In ordinary language it is often confined to situations in which the same word is capable of two different meanings.

There are two types of ambiguities- latent and patent. Latent ambiguity refers to an ambiguity that does not readily appear in the language of a document, but arises from a collateral matter when the document’s terms are applied or executed. For example, when a man devise property to his cousin A B, and he has two cousins of that name. This is also termed as extrinsic ambiguity. On the other hand, patent ambiguity is an ambiguity that clearly appears on the face of a document, arising from the language itself. For example a bill of exchange is expressed in words to be drawn for “two fifty dollars’ but in figures for $ 215 it is a patent ambiguity.