Many dictionaries translate it to "ambiguity",but it looks so indefinitely.

I'm looking for more expressive answer.

  • What do you mean by "it looks so indefinitely"? As a native English speaker I'm having trouble parsing this phrase. Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 7:38
  • 1
    maybe you can adopt the facebook wording "complicated relationship"
    – wilson
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 10:29
  • Incidentally, "ambiguity" in the sense of multiple possible meanings/interpretations of a statement is 歧义. Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 20:59

10 Answers 10


Depending on context, 暧昧[pronounced as ài mèi] can take on a few meanings. The following is quoted from Baidu with some explanations in English:

  1. (态度、用意)含糊;不明白。(attitude or intent is unclear or incomprehensible)
  2. (行为)不光明;不可告人。(behavior is dishonorable or secretive, like having an illicit affair)
  3. 男女或同性肉体关系还处于想象段。(at the non-physical stage of a relationship, that is, in between friendship and intimate relationship)
  4. 男女或同性关系还未发展到恋人关系,但是行为举止和恋人关系差不多。(same as 3)

暧昧 is usually used to describe a kind of ambiguous relationship that is neither here nor there. It is not necessarily a negative word.

  • 也有“言辞暧昧”的说法,意思是"语焉不详" Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 1:25

(someone1) flirt with (someone2). 玩暧昧,玩调情

  • But flirt is a kind of action. 暧昧 is a kind of state between romance relationship and friendship.
    – Yi Jiang
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 1:49
  • Haha, "暧昧" means the relationship is hard to explain clearly, it sometimes means "微妙", sometimes means the feeling of love between two people related to that;)
    – xqMogvKW
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 3:21

暧昧 is a kind of relationship between women and men; it exists in friendship, but the degree is higher than friendship; it’s almost love but has not become love yet.

I don’t think there is a perfect English word which can perfectly express its meaning. Actually, we can’t always find a correct word which has the exact same meaning in another language.


I'd say its similar to being flirtatious with someone, but it's more Chinese culture related.

Because Chinese culture puts emphasis on being indirect, the relationship between a men and women can be somewhat unclear. 暧昧 describes the relationship of two people between "friendship" and "partnership". Think of two people with mutual affection but haven't told each other their feelings. I know it is also common in western world but I would say it exists more in Chinese couples.


Common ways of 暧昧 use: When you see a guy and a girl are flirting with each other but they denied that they are in a relationship. You call that 暧昧.

It means the relationship of two people that you assume they are feeling affectionate towards each other.

To me, ambiguity is not right word for that.


I think "suggestive" is a good alternative.


In the context of relationships, a ShuoshuoChinese说说中文 YouTube video These Chinese Concepts Are Totally Different from Western Culture! -Chinese DATING Words and Culture (starting ~1:07) describes 暧昧:

ShuoshuoChinese说说中文 screenshot showing their description of 暧昧

The ambiguous and non-physical stage in a relationship, it is in between friendship and intimate relationship.

The example they give is:

I'm "aimeiing" with this guy recently,

Look he sent me this.

What do you think he meant by this?


This is an old question! I was young and handsome back then! It all went pear-shaped!!

I would define 暧昧 like this: A close, possibly sexual, relationship, in which the parties do not openly declare their positions. Thus, ambiguous by dint of dearth of information.

Their relationship is very close, but apparently they are not a couple.

Rumour has it they are having an affair.

His attitude is very friendly, but noncommittal.

We're close to being close friends, but far from being lovers.


Personally it is a "shady relationship", although I am not a local english speaker.

  • 3
    I'd like to use the word 'ambiguous'. Shady has negative connotations. Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 2:13

I would change upon different circumstances. When it's about a state of relationship, I would say amorous ambiguity, but when it's an adjective I would say it's blurred, ambiguous, or unclear.

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