English Grammar Basic Grammar and syntax

What is the connotation? (with examples)

What is the connotation? (with examples)

Connotation is a greater understanding of the meaning of a word. (In addition to a literal meaning, a word can also carry an additional idea or feeling (called its connotation). Connotation is in contrast to denotation, which is the literal meaning of a word.)

Easy Examples of Connotation

The examples below all denote an adult female, but have different connotations (ie additional associated ideas). In all the examples in this section, the connotations are shaded.

  • He’s an adult.
    (Connotation: a sensible man)
  • He’s a real man.
    (Connotation: a robust or strong man)
  • He’s a gent.
    (Connotation: a polite or considerate man)

Real-Life Examples of Connotation

Una palabra puede tener una connotación positiva, neutra o negativa.

  • This task will be difficult / challenging.
    (The word“difficult“has a negative connotation. It suggests there are problems ahead.“Challenging“has a positive connotation. It suggests the problems will be overcome.)
  • Welcome to my home / house.
    (“Home“(where loved ones live) has a positive connotation, while“house“(a functional building to live in) has a neutral connotation. This is why engineers build houses but estate agents sell homes.)

La connotación contrasta con la“denotation“, which is the literal meaning of a word.

  • You are tenacious / stubborn.
    (The denotation of these words is“determined,“but“tenacious“(won’t give up) is a compliment, whereas“stubborn“(won’t alter course under any circumstances) isn’t.)
  • She is confident / egotistical.
    (The denotation of these words is“self-assured.““Confident“(showing certainty) has a positive connotation while“egotistical“(overly self-centered) has a negative connotation.)

Positive and Negative Connotations of Words with Similar Denotations

Here are some more examples of words with a similar denotation but different connotations:

Word with a Positive Connotation Word with a Negative Connotation Approximate Denotation of Both
Slender Skinny Thin
Assertive Domineering Forceful
Meticulous Nitpicking Thorough
Economical Tight fisted Cost-effective
Youthful Childish Young
Tenacious Stubborn Persistent
Unassuming Plain Normal

Why Should I Care about Connotation?

Aquí hay dos buenas razones para preocuparse por la connotación.

(Reason 1) Use connotation to influence your readers.

As a writer, you can influence your readers’ opinions with the words you choose. The connotations of the chosen words determine whether your text is biased or unbiased.

  • For all the billions of dollars created here, Silicon Valley is remarkably stingy when it comes to giving. (American journalist Sarah Lacy)
    (Instead of using“stingy,“Sarah Lacy could have chosen any of the following words:“careful,““economical,““frugal,““thrifty,““miserly,“or“tight-fisted.“She opted for“stingy“because it has a negative connotation. She wanted to portray Silicon Valley’s wealthy as privileged and self-centered. Her sentence of her is an attack not just a statement.)

By choosing words with the right connotations or no connotations, you can present unbiased or biased text that ranges from subtly nudging your readers to your position to exposing your position with a diatribe. It’s all in the choice of words and the connotations of those words.

(Reason 2) Use connotation to write concisely and precisely.

The best writing is concise and precise (read more on the diction page). Writing concisely is about the efficiency of words (i.e., avoiding verbiage), while writing precisely ensures that your readers will assimilate your ideas accurately. Writing concisely and accurately is achieved by using descriptive words that have the correct connotation.

Using descriptive words.

  • David looked furiously at his critics. ❌
    (This sentence is not concise or precise. The word“looked“is not descriptive. As“looked“is so nondescript, the writer felt the need to use the adverb“furiously“to help with the description. That’s why it’s not concise.“Stared“would be better, but even“stared“can be improved upon.)
  • David glared at his critics. ✔️
    (“Glared“is a synonym for“stared,“but it’s not exactly the same. It’s stronger. With a strong, descriptive word like“glared,“the adverb“furiously“can be dropped. Remember: The best writing is concise and precise.)

Using words with the correct connotations.

  • The panel described you as forceful.
    (Is“forceful“the right word? Perhaps“assertive,“which has a more positive connotation would be more accurate. What about“domineering,“which has a negative connotation?)
  • His proposal was unusual.
    (Is“unusual“the right word? What about“extraordinary“(positive connotation) or“bizarre“(negative connotation)?)

Key Points

Thinking about the connotation will help you find the right word. It will permit you:

  • Create an unbiased text by selecting words with no or very light connotations.
  • Create deliberately biased text (from subtly biased to obviously biased) by selecting words with connotations that suit your needs.

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