Denotation and Connotation

Denotation and connotation

If you want to discuss the meaning of a word, it helps to know the difference between denotation and connotation. These two terms are easy to confuse because they describe related concepts. Additionally, both denotation and connotation stem from the Latin word notāre, meaning “to note.”

The denotation of a word or phrase is its explicit or direct meaning. Another way to think of it is as the associations that a word usually elicits for most speakers of a language, as distinguished from those elicited for any individual speaker because of personal experience.

The connotation of a word or phrase is the associated or secondary meaning; it can be something suggested or implied by a word or thing, rather than being explicitly named or described.

For example, the words home and house have similar denotations or primary meanings: a home is “a shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household,” and a house is “a building in which people live.” However, for many, these terms carry different associations or secondary meanings, also known as connotations. Many people would agree that home connotes a sense of belonging and comfort, whereas house conveys little more than a structure.

The connotation of a word depends on cultural context and personal associations, but the denotation of a word is its standardized meaning within the English language. One way to remember the difference between the terms is to take a hint from the prefixes: con- comes from Latin and means “together; with,” reminding us that the connotation of a word works with or alongside its more explicit meaning or denotation.

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  1. Daniel S. -  December 5, 2016 - 1:23 pm

    Denotation is the dictionary definition of the word, And connotation is haw a word is perceived. An example of connotation is consequence. When you hear this word you will immediately think of it as negative, but it is truly a neutral word, and can mean either positive or negative. Denotation is why the word consequence is in fact neutral.

    Dan S, Patton Middle School

  2. haysus -  June 3, 2016 - 1:12 pm

    all i did was read denote below the article

    • T. Aravindan -  November 27, 2016 - 9:26 pm

      Fine analytical

  3. brickness -  April 23, 2016 - 10:36 am

    One denotes what something means.
    One connotes what something brings to mind.

  4. Denise G. -  March 9, 2016 - 2:45 pm

    denotation commonly refers to the dictionary definition of a word while connotation refers to the emotional definition of a word- put simply

    • Emohji man -  June 1, 2016 - 9:24 am

      Look how long my exclamation marks are!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      (in the previous article)

    • Cassandra Linov -  November 28, 2016 - 4:16 pm

      Yes, I agree. My middle school teacher used to say it that way.

  5. numpty -  February 29, 2016 - 12:06 pm

    chocolate is cool

  6. sir dictionary -  February 29, 2016 - 12:04 pm

    pretty cool website eh?

    • sir dictionary lover -  February 29, 2016 - 12:05 pm

      i think you are the cool one!

      • dd -  March 24, 2016 - 12:24 pm

        i know right

    • Heehee -  June 1, 2016 - 9:32 am

      I did not even read the article, I just like the chat

      • Ellie -  October 21, 2016 - 12:04 pm

        Really dude?

  7. T.D. -  February 22, 2016 - 4:03 am

    Here’s a good example, I think. The term “A-list” denotes the most sought after celebrities, but it connotes exclusive parties and other social affairs.

  8. John -  February 17, 2016 - 2:25 pm

    I’m really in inspired for the contrast between the words “connotation” and “denotation”. I have known the two words for sometime now and I have commonly used the former more often. The contrast I have come across here, between the two words, has aroused a serious sense of adroitness in me, challenging me to take keen interest in the possible niceties and nuances of some common terminologies

    • OTC -  February 22, 2016 - 10:27 am

      That is very interesting. Submit

  9. Trent Fillmore -  September 8, 2015 - 12:47 pm

    “The connotation of a word depends on cultural context and personal associations, but the denotation of a word is its standardized meaning within the English language.”

    True, which is why a dictionary is for diction only. Its simplified denotation is good for nothing more than making sure we have the right entry when spelling or saying the term. No dictionary has ever come remotely close to recording a lexicon, because nothing that could be printed as a book could possibly track and illustrate the complex web of a language’s connotations, nor should it try because, as the article mentions, “the connotation of a word depends on cultural context and personal associations.”

    Can cultural context and personal associations be tracked with modern technology? Certainly.

    Can today’s tech enable a true lexicographical resource, eliminating any need for humanity’s reliance on weak denotations of a dictionary for definitions? Yes, it can.

    Then what are we waiting for? Only for someone to step up and design the economics of a truly peer-to-peer lexicographic engine.

    Why economics? Because connotation is the power to promote ideas. A concept without a term is hard to convey. Economics controlling connotation inherit control of concepts discussed and acted upon. That power should never be centrally controlled.

    • Don T -  March 4, 2016 - 7:53 pm

      Trent, it sounds like you have a good idea going there, but when you said “Economics controlling connotation inherit control of concepts discussed and acted upon”, I thought that you just threw up on the page. That’s another way of saying you lost me. Who is discussing and acting upon concepts, and how does this idea inherit control of it?

  10. Jean Madeleine Kai -  September 7, 2015 - 4:54 am

    It’s awesome Hahhaa ;)

  11. Anna -  September 2, 2015 - 7:49 pm

    Another example: Mother, mom, and mommy all have the same (or close to the same) denotation, but very different connotations. Mommy tends to be associated more with small children, while mom or mother tends to be a ‘more mature’ way of addressing one’s parent.
    P.S. I LOVE MY MOM!!! :) <3 :)

    • Anna -  September 2, 2015 - 8:04 pm

      Personally, my whole family thinks mother sounds to formal and almost like you don’t really love them, like you are addressing them like they are just some person you know, or almost like they are your boss or someone superior to or above you. I believe that you should be on the same level as your parents, they should be one of your best friends (of course they are still kind of in charge of you…but that’s ok)

      • Nancy -  September 8, 2015 - 3:26 pm

        My dear mother (in discussing her position in our nuclear family), was a close personal friend. Her imaginative scope, intelligence and laughter; her unabashed joy in being with her children loving and appreciating; assisting and cajoling..(.it goes on)made her an excellent Mommy and ,later, Mom. To me she will always be “My Mummy”; my BF –
        the person(WHOM) I love more than any other alive or dead.

      • Briezy -  September 8, 2015 - 5:12 pm

        hey never knew these words until I had to match them in my homework :)

        • Heehee -  June 1, 2016 - 9:31 am


      • Edwina -  February 22, 2016 - 2:52 pm

        I feel that whatever you call your mother feels right because you are taught at an early age to call her that. My mother was always Mother, and it was never formal or stand-offish, and I loved her dearly. My great grandmother was always Grandmother, and as I got older I also heard her referred to as Grandmother Josephine. But, she was one of my favorite people on earth and died in an accident over age 100, in perfect health. I never felt the term was formal though, only loving. My grandchildren call me Grandwin…I tried for grandmother, but their mother shortened it. I like Mother and Grandmother. Mom and mommy are okay I guess for tiny toddlers, though my son shortened it to Mom when he got older.

    • Dr. Know -  September 18, 2015 - 10:08 am

      I would also point out that the connotation of mother, mom, and mommy change based upon the age of the child using the term. A young child calling for “mommy” has a much sweeter connotation than a grown man hollering for his “mommy.” ;)

      • Cassandra Linov -  November 28, 2016 - 4:18 pm

        I agree. If a grown man calls for his “mommy”, it has an immature and strange connotation.

  12. lolo -  September 2, 2015 - 2:10 pm

    i agree

    • YEP -  June 1, 2016 - 9:30 am

      Yep, and what lolo mean, its lol for laugh out loud?

  13. Lester van den Heever -  August 27, 2015 - 11:51 pm

    I have always as a teacher introduced these to concepts in class. They are important markers for concept checking of language understanding. If students know that there are connotation to lexical, and denotations, it encourages them to think beyond the meaning of some root words, or in the future try to view or accept broader meanings, thus possibly avoiding confusions, misinterpretation and translations.

    • Jerry -  February 18, 2016 - 11:08 am

      Would not this comment have been better worded: “As a teacher, I have always…”?

      I’m not nit-picking, but as written, it seems a bit awkward.

  14. shekiki -  August 23, 2015 - 12:23 am

    i support you

  15. Lorraine -  August 17, 2015 - 3:02 am

    many people use the word squashed when they actually mean quashed. Is this acceptable? The way i see it, quashed is re some kind of legal issue which has been struck off, where squashëd is a “tight fit”

  16. Joyce -  August 14, 2015 - 8:31 pm

    Interested in different uses of words am a writer and like to be aware of different meanings and similarities as well as synonyms and other uses of words

  17. Ricky Forguson -  August 14, 2015 - 6:49 am

    Basically you’re stating “denotation” is the Literal meaning and “connotation” is the Figurative meaning. You should follow this with “infer” vs. “imply”… two words that get mutilated 9 times out of 10, as does “decimate” vs. “annihilate”……….

    • Rick in Afton -  August 19, 2015 - 9:45 am

      Flaunt and flout, fulsome and full.

    • Absurdicuss -  August 20, 2015 - 6:21 pm

      Hey Ricky,
      My take on the differences between the two, from the article, is one of “primary meaning” which might not be literal, and secondary meaning which includes associated meanings.

      Excellent suggestions on both counts. Inference originated from the hearer while implication originates with the speaker…I think.

      Isn’t it surprising how often we hear “educated” people misuse decimate in place of “annihilate” and think they sound smart.

  18. Dana -  August 14, 2015 - 6:37 am

    This is one of those sets of confusing words that actually has a built in reminder in case of confusion. Denotation begins de – like definition while connotation begins co – like context.

    • Absurdicuss -  August 20, 2015 - 6:26 pm

      Thank you, Dana, for your simple and effective apothegm.

  19. Dylania -  August 14, 2015 - 5:26 am

    I learned to differentiate the words by associating denotation with “dictionary”. The denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word.

  20. Rachel -  August 13, 2015 - 8:58 pm

    A better way to remember the difference between connotation and denotation is that denotation begins with a d for “dictionary definition.”

  21. psychlops -  August 13, 2015 - 6:21 pm

    An easy to remember the difference between denotation and connotation is denotation begins with D, same as Dictionary, an explicit definition.

    • Alaskana -  January 25, 2016 - 4:00 am

      Sweet! You took the words right out of my mouth. That’s the simple way I learned to keep it straight in my mind. Many thanks to you.

  22. afam okoye -  August 13, 2015 - 3:14 pm

    i want to appreciate the effort for the new words by the day, it has not only bring about understanding but also teaches me how to play with words
    noting but well done.

  23. Roger Stacey -  August 13, 2015 - 1:23 pm

    “as distinguished from those elicited for any individual speaker because of personal experience” I find this unhelpful. I think it is possible for a word to have nearly universal connotative value. “Home” would be a good example.

  24. Kimani Kariuki -  August 13, 2015 - 9:16 am

    A great explanation, especially given the etymological note and the mnemonic provided…

  25. TK -  August 13, 2015 - 8:24 am

    I was actually guilty of this grammatical faux pas. I learned something knew this evening.

    • Anonymous Cat -  August 20, 2015 - 8:39 am

      More like morning, if it’s 8:24 am.

      • :) -  June 1, 2016 - 9:26 am


    • Jerry -  August 23, 2015 - 6:06 pm

      Know, er, no – now you know something new, no?

  26. Deb -  August 13, 2015 - 7:49 am

    This is an important definition, which has stuck with me since 11th grade Semantics class, thanks to Miss McDonald!

    • NO -  June 1, 2016 - 9:27 am

      Not “Deb”, “DAB!”

  27. Koen Daniel -  August 13, 2015 - 7:06 am

    Thank you for sharing the most quintessential and powerful tool on earth: words. The power of words transcends every other puissance. Money has limitation but words can break all barriers. It has been so and will so remain for good.

    • Maureen -  August 22, 2015 - 5:47 am

      Well there are two more words in that explanation that im going to have to look up!

  28. bertharris -  August 13, 2015 - 12:51 am

    looking forward to our interaction


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