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Distinguish Between The Patent And The Latent Ambiguities


An ambiguity is doubtfulness or uncertain of signification from a word’s being susceptible to different meanings. In law, the term has received a more extensive signification and relates to circumstances extrinsic and beyond the definition of a word.

Parent ambiguity refers to uncertainty on the face of legal documents. This gives the agreement of contract an indefinite meaning. When a document includes patent ambiguity, no external evidence can show the testator’s intention which remains unclear. It is also known as intrinsic patens. As per Sec 93 of the Indian Evidence Act, Patent ambiguity makes the intention behind a legal document unclear and doesn’t allow clear interpretation. The senseless language of the document makes it’s meaning ambiguous. So, when a document is ambiguous on its face, no extrinsic evidence is allowed to explain or amend the instrument.

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Latent ambiguity is confusion resulting from a word or term with multiple meanings that isn’t clear when reading a legal document. This ambiguity usually becomes clearer when a collateral matter provides knowledge and additional insight. When latent ambiguities are present, extrinsic evidence can be used to clear the confusion. In a will, a latent ambiguity isn’t immediately discoverable when reviewing the document but becomes clearer when considering the extrinsic circumstances. Evidence is admissible to remove the latent ambiguity Sec. 95 o the Indian Evidence ct says that the language used in a document is plain in itself but is unmeaning in reference to existing facts, evidence may be given to show that it was used in a particular sense.


Patent Ambiguity may be understood as appearing on the face of the instrument. A patent ambiguity admits of no explanation by matters extrinsic and has occasioned no inconsiderable degree of confusion. As an example, in the case of a written contract, assigning the party’s interest in the freight of a ship, saying parol evidence would be admissible of the circumstances attending the transaction, to ascertain whether the word ‘Freight’ referred to the goods on board of the ship or to an interest in earnings of the ship. However, it falls within the general definition of patent ambiguity. The terns used are doubtful in its meaning and consequently admit more than one interpretation according to the subject matter in contemplation of the parties. The ambiguity is not latent in any proper sense as it is inherent in the instrument and appears on its face and evincing a difficulty at the very moment of its perusal and yet it admits of explanation. The court of the law admit evidence of particular usages in aid of interpretation of written instrument, from the nature of the case, such customs or usage is necessary to a right understanding of the instrument Parol evidence may also be given to applying the written instrument to the subject matter, when used by particular person and applied to particular subjects, it is perfectly right with fair dealing to give effect to the language used in a contract as it is understood by those who make use of it.

In order to make a clear distinction between Patent and Latent Ambiguities, it is necessary to note that there are two kinds of patent ambiguity and correct knowledge is essential to avoid confusion with latent ambiguities which later are of a perfectly different kind. Some patent ambiguities allow a resort to extrinsic evidence and others do not and these latter classes only seem to belong to ambiguities patents. Ambiguity is a patent in this sense when the mere perusal of the instrument shows plainly the something more must be added before the reader can determine which of several things is meant by it, and then the rule is inflexible no evidence to supply the deficiency can be admitted. A patent ambiguity in a written instrument, which requires something to be added in order to make it intelligible, cannot be explained by evidence extrinsic and renders the instrument void.

A talent ambiguity would seem at first view to be easily understood, and yet a difficulty may arise with respect to that also from the loose manner in which the term has sometimes been used. Perhaps the clearest definition of this species of ambiguity is that which seems certain and without ambiguity, for anything on the face of the instrument, but there is some collateral matter out of the instrument that breeds the ambiguity and as it is raised by extrinsic evidence, it may be fairly dissolved by same means. It is the nature of latent ambiguity never to appear on the face of writing but to lie hidden in the person or thing or subject where the writings speak.

So, in simple words, if on reading the document the ambiguity can be detected and no definite meaning be understood then such ambiguity is patent ambiguity. And if on personal of document no ambiguity can be found by him and the meaning is definite but that document is applied with the instrument of facts, the ambiguity arises and its meaning becomes indefinite, then the ambiguity is the latent ambiguity.


In order to conclude, we may say that patent ambiguity is so uncertain and no meaning can be granted to the document and the latent ambiguity is certain and meaningful but the document makes no relevance in the present circumstance. The patent ambiguity is personal nature and it is related to the person executing the document oral evidence is not allowed for the removal of this kind of ambiguity. It makes the document useless. As it is on the face of the document, it is evident from inspection of the document itself. Whereas, latent ambiguity is of objective nature and it is related to the subject matter and object of the document. To remove the kind of ambiguity oral evidence is allowed. It does not a document useless. It is not evident from prima facie inspection of the document is applied to existing circumstances.

This Article Written by Tshering Donker Tamang, Student of Department of Law, University of North Bengal.

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