Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13948
Would you rather be called lazy or relaxed? Nosy or curious? Stingy or thrifty? Words may have similar meanings but different connotations. Learn the effect of word choices, and write real estate ads!
Sometimes, we use words whose dictionary meanings are different from the meaning we're actually trying to get across.
Listen to a letter of recommendation a boss wrote for an employee who wasn't very good at his job in Humor Master - "Denotation vs. Connotation" from Rochester Chamber Toastmasters:
The above video is humorous because the letter of recommendation doesn't say anything bad about Willoughby, yet we get the idea that he was not a good worker!
This "letter of recommendation" demonstrates the difference between denotation and connotation.
The denotation of a word is the dictionary meaning.
For example, the Merriam-Webster definition for the word hardworking is:
constantly, regularly, or habitually engaged in earnest and energetic work
While denotation tells us the definition of a word, connotation goes beyond what the dictionary says. It deals with the way the word affects us and the connections we make with it.
A word may bring up certain emotions, or we may associate it with certain memories. When we read the word hardworking, we may think of someone with a lot of energy, who works hard and never seems to be tired. We may be amazed at such a person, or we may admire him or her very much.
We may picture in our minds someone like this:
Hardworking has a positive connotation. Connotations can be positive, negative, or neutral. That usually depends on the context, but it can also depend on our experiences.
We may think of someone who always puts work first ahead of family, friends, and even his or her own health.
Look at some more examples of related words with negative, neutral, and positive connotations.
An easy way to remember the difference between denotation and connotation is that denotation starts with a d and so does dictionary and definition! Connotation starts with a c, and it deals with the connections we have with the word.
Move on to the Got It? section now!
Resources Referenced in the Lesson