Hot News!

Denotation and Connotation


Denotation and Connotation

Denotation and Connotation

Learning Objectives

In this lesson, you will focus on the following objective: Understanding denotation and connotation.

Denotation and Connotation

Vocabulary Terms

The denotation of a word is its literal meaning; the connotation of a word is its implied meaning, with the emotions it evokes.

Literature Connection

Mark Twain is a master at conveying suggestions both directly (through denotation, the literal meaning of words) and indirectly (through connotation, or implication).

“Pretty soon Tom and Joe arrived, and then all hands set about adorning the house with flowers”
—Mark Twain, from “The Californian’s Tale”

In the quotation above, Twain uses the word adorning, instead of decorating, ornamenting, or embellishing. Although these words have a similar denotation, the connotations of adorning best fit the context. Adorning implies enhancing the appearance of something that is already beautiful in itself-- namely, the “rose-clad” cottage that delighted the narrator.

A chart like the one below can help you analyze, or look more closely at, words—at their similarities, their differences, and their shades of meaning. Follow these instructions to create the chart:

  • In the left-hand column of the chart, place the words you will analyze. 
  • Consult a dictionary to find definitions, or denotations, for them. 
  • In the second column of the chart, enter the definition for each term. 
  • In the third column of the chart, record ideas, images, or feelings that you associate with each word. Such associations are the word’s connotations.
A Semantic Features Chart

Word Denotation Connotation
famishing suffering from a lack of something necessary starving, enduring terrible hunger

Denotation and Connotation Quiz



Q: What is the difference between denotation and connotation?
A: The main difference is that denotation refers to the literal, objective meaning of a word, while connotation refers to the subjective, associated meanings. Denotation is definitional, while connotation depends on personal, social, and cultural contexts.

Q: Why does understanding denotation vs. connotation matter?
A: Distinguishing between denotative and connotative meanings improves communication by avoiding misinterpretations. It also allows for more precise and effective use of language. Analyzing denotation and connotation is key to comprehending nuance in texts.

Q: Can you provide some examples of denotation and connotation?
A: Here are a few examples:
  • Child denotes a young human being. It connotes innocence, vulnerability, playfulness.
  • Dark denotes an absence of light. It can connote evil, mystery, fear, secrecy.
  • Cute denotes attractive or endearing. It connotes non-seriousness, harmless behavior, sweetness.
Q: How can you harness connotations effectively when communicating?
A: Use positive connotations to uplift. Use negative connotations to critique. Avoid problematic connotations that may alienate audiences. Carefully choose words with connotations that evoke your intended tone and emotions.

Q: Should writers rely more on denotation or connotation in their language?
A: It depends on the context. Precision calls for denotation. Crafting a mood or style benefits from artful use of connotation. Overall, balance helps optimize clarity while also engaging readers.

Q: How can you avoid miscommunication when words have multiple connotations?
A: Clarify which connotations you intend. Acknowledge that a word may evoke unintended meanings for others. Rephrase using more neutral or literal language when necessary.

Q: Why should you analyze authors' language choices through denotation vs. connotation?
A: It provides insight into an author's agenda and worldview. Comparing denotative and connotative meanings reveals nuanced opinions, values, and purpose.


[1] "Denotation, Connotation and Myth." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, pp. 1744-1759.
This essay by Roland Barthes analyzes denotation and connotation in mythological systems. Barthes suggests myth functions at a higher connotative level rather than a denotative level.

[2] Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics: The Basics. Routledge, 2017.
This textbook has a chapter comparing denotation and connotation in semiotics. It provides an overview of how meanings are created through language.

[3] Saeed, John I. Semantics. 4th ed., Wiley Blackwell, 2016.
This semantics textbook includes a chapter on sense relations discussing denotation and connotation. It analyzes how word meanings are based on concepts and references.

[4] Allan, Keith, and Kate Burridge. Euphemism & Dysphemism: Language Used as Shield and Weapon. Oxford University Press, 1991.
This book examines positive and negative connotations in language use. It looks at euphemisms and dysphemisms as connotative variations from neutral denotations.

[5] Kovecses, Zoltan. Language, Culture, and Body in Human Feeling. Cambridge University Press, 2018.
This work discusses cultural connotations and embodiment in emotion concepts. It analyzes how connotations shape meaning beyond denotations.
Mr. ‏El-Sayed Ramadan ‎ ‎


No comments
Post a Comment