Connotation vs. Denotation: What Do They Say, and What Do They Mean?

Contributor: Jennifer Blanchard. Lesson ID: 13681

Have you ever come across a word and understood it for exactly what it was saying? Meanwhile, did someone else understand it in a different way because of the feeling it caused? Were you both right?

categories

Comprehension, English / Language Arts

subject
English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory
personality style
Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:

Take a look at these simple sentences:

Karen made a lot of dough.

Felix is a total dog.

They are engaged.

Mark was blue.

  • What meaning do you take away from each?
  • Do they all mean exactly what they say?
  • Did you find yourself thinking of multiple meanings for them?
  • How can the same word, written in the same way, possibly have different meanings?
  • Are one, or both, of the meanings implied?

Keep reading to find the answers!

  • Did you think Karen made a lot of money or a lot of bread?

money bread

Wait a second! Even bread could mean money to one person and food to another!

  • How do words have direct or emotional connections to readers?

This is important as a writer because it will allow you to communicate your thoughts and feelings in the most concise way and in the way that you intend.

This is important to you as a reader because it will allow you to understand exactly what is being stated and what emotions can go along with that.

As you saw above, the denotation of a word allows you to understand it based on what it actually means. However, the connotation of that same word can be different based on your own thoughts and feelings.

To better understand the difference, compare denotation and connotation with the chart below:

  Denotation Connotation
 
  • dictionary meaning of a word
  • different meanings that can be made from a word
 
  • the strict definition
  • associations that most words naturally carry with them
 
  • very precise, literal, and straightforward
  • suggested or implied meanings
   
  • indirect meanings
   
  • personal meanings
   
  • feelings the word invokes
   
  • can be positive, negative, or neutral

 

Now that you understand denotation and connotation, let's think about why they exist.

When an author writes, the words are chosen purposefully and for a reason.

The same thing happens when you open your mouth to speak. While some words might accidentally come out without thinking, usually you (consciously or subconsciously) select certain words for a reason.

words have power

Therefore, word choice is intentional and effective. The words that you choose to use end up setting the mood, or feeling, of what is being communicated.

If you can get certain feelings from words by themselves, imagine how the mood of a longer text can be impacted by the various words that are chosen and put together to be used.

Let's look at some instances of when this really comes into play.

baby names on post its

Baby Names

When parents are choosing a name for a baby, they can choose a name based on the direct meaning of that name. For example, the name "Hope" means desire of fulfillment.

On the other hand, parents can choose that same name because of an emotional connection. For example, it could belong to an important family member or a famous person who inspired them.

product naming

Product Names

When companies are coming out with a new product, they spend a lot of time and money on picking the perfect name so that its message will represent exactly what they want it to.

For example, when Volkswagen named the Beetle, they wanted to pick a name that would embody something little and cute.

Let's look at some other examples of words that have denotative and connotative meanings.

homey house

The following words have the same basic definition, but they each mean something different:

  home house residence dwelling

 

The straightforward definition (denotation) of all these words is where a person lives at any given time. However, think about the differences in the subtle meanings that are implied:

A home is cozy, loving, and comfortable.

A house is the building or structure.

A residence is impersonal with no cozy feeling.

A dwelling is primitive or basic.

Since all those words can be defined the same way but bring different meanings along with them, you would think about the overall message or mood that you are trying to portray and then chose the word that best fits into that context.

Here are a few more words with the same denotation but different connotations:

  investing gambling
  new unproven
  thrifty stingy

 

  • What implied meanings go along with those words?
  positive negative
  investing gambling
 
  • beneficial outcome
  • wasting money, illegal
  new unproven
 
  • never before used
  • unsure, not necessarily true
  thrifty stingy
 
  • wasteless, useful
  • cheap, selfish

 

positive neutral negative

Some words can have a positive connotation, and others can have a negative connotation. If neither is the case, the word would have a neutral connotation.

This is why authors and speakers need to be mindful of the words they select!

When you are ready, move on to the Got It? section to practice with some examples!

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