Connotation Essay Example

Please consider these examples:

skinny, thin, and slender.  These three words all mean having less weight on one's body than what might be considered average.  But the connotations differ since the suggested meanings of skinny and thin are often more negative than slender, with skinny potentially the most negative of the three.

childlike and childish both mean characteristic of a child; however, childlike suggests innocence, meekness and wide-eyed wonder, while chidish suggests immaturity, pettiness, and willfulness.

horses and coursers both denotes equinines, but coursers has the suggestion of agile and dainty equinines.

new denotes of recent origin, but the connotation can suggest better, improved

cheap and inexpensive both denote not costly, but the connotation of cheap suggests something is of poor quality whereas inexpensive does not.

Often connotation is a result of the context of a word.  For instance, if one says that the dog barked, the connotation is neutral, but if one says that the manager barked orders at his staff, the connotation is clearly negative.

Here's a helpful video explaining denotation and connotation:

This chapter is from the book 

Understanding Denotation and Connotation

Language is symbolic in that we use it to represent ideas, objects, andfeelings. Because language is only representative, you can interpret any givenstatement in more than one way. Sometimes the difference is simply literalversus figurative interpretation. Denotation and connotation aretwo more tools you can employ to discern the meaning of an unfamiliar term. Fora writer to express herself precisely, she must understand both the denotationsand connotations of words, and use that understanding to convey to the readerher exact intent.


A word's denotation is the strict dictionary definition of thatword and refers to the actual thing or idea it represents. In other words, adenotation is the actual meaning of the word without reference to the emotionalassociations it can arouse in a reader.

If a writer wants her readers to fully grasp her meaning, she must use wordsaccording to their established denotations to avoid meaning something shedidn't intend and end up confusing the reader. An example of a misused wordis represented in this sentence, "Her dissent was gradual andhesitating." This is homonym confusion—and subsequently denotationconfusion—at its best. Although a dissent (disagreement) may be gradual andhesitating, the most likely denotation is that of descent (travel downward),which makes a lot more sense.

However, even with the apparent objectivity of a dictionary definition, youwill still encounter certain language challenges on the denotative level,because a word can have multiple denotations. For example, the dictionary listsmore than 20 distinct meanings for the word low. As a result, you cansay, "A low wall bordered the field," and you can also say, "Johnwas feeling low today." The same word, used in two different contexts, hastwo distinctly different meanings. This ambiguity of word meanings can give youa bit of an obstacle in understanding new words. Considering that, ensure thatwhen you read you understand both denotation and context to get the precisemeaning of the word as it is used.

In technical or scientific books you are less likely to find a great numberof words with multiple denotations than you are, for instance, in a fictionalwork. In these kinds of books, you have a one-to-one correspondence between wordand meaning. For example, if you see the term transistor or operatingsystem, you will perceive each of those terms in only one context each, thatbeing electronic circuitry (for transistor) or a set of governing operatingrules for your computer (for operating system).


Be aware that words can have more than one denotation and connotation. Besure to read the question in the correct context and then choose an answer basedon the most correct contextual meaning.


Although writers can make mistakes in denotation, a writer is more apt tomiss the right word by misjudging its connotation. Connotationrefers to the emotional or psychological associations a word carries with it.The connotation of a word goes beyond its strict meaning to express thefeelings, thoughts, and images the word suggests or evokes.

You can see an example of the difference between connotation and denotationby examining the phrase United States of America. The denotation is asfollows: "A federal republic of North America, including 50 states, and theDistrict of Columbia, the Canal Zone, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of theUnited States, American Samoa, Guam Wake, and several other scattered islands ofthe Pacific." Pretty dry and neutral, huh? Now, compare the connotation ofthe same phrase, which includes government, patriotism, national pride, and afeeling of republic and oneness with other Americans. As you can see, theconnotation is quite different from the denotation.

Because of the subjective nature of language, it has the power to createunpredictable psychological responses. Some connotations are personal, derivingfrom one's particular experiences, whereas others carry emotional overtonesby virtue of the way the writer presents the word.

For example, the word home evokes a different response from someonewho came from a happy childhood and home than that evoked in someone who had anunhappy home life. Several types of connotation can influence the way you thinkabout a word, which are as follows:

  • Positive (favorable) connotation—Words that make people feelgood

  • Negative (unfavorable) connotation—Words that provoke anegative emotional response

  • Neutral connotation—Words that cause no emotional reaction atall

Depending on the intent of the writer, he will choose either favorable orunfavorable connotations to communicate his point. Most journalistic writinguses favorable connotations for the sake of political correctness and to avoidalienating readers. Scientific or technical documents typically use a neutralconnotation. Politically motivated writing normally uses highly chargedconnotations, both favorable and unfavorable, to achieve the desired impact.

Words also have formal and informal connotations. When you speak with orwrite to older people, people who are in a position of authority, or others youdo not know well, you are most likely to use words with formal connotations. Anexample would be using the term grandmother instead of a denotative, yetless formal, equal like gramma. Formal connotations tend to be eitherneutral or favorable. When you speak with or write to your friends, you are mostlikely to use words with informal connotations.


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