Connotation and Denotation Examples

Language is symbolic in a lot of ways. It is used to represent the ideas and feelings of the speaker, which may be interpreted in various manners. Sometimes, our language varies simply by its literal and figurative interpretations. Connotation and denotation are two tools that writers like to use to express themselves precisely to readers. But it’s also important to know the difference between these two, as they do share related concepts.

Connotation

Connotation refers to the implied or secondary meaning of a word, in addition to its literal meaning. These are the type of words that consist of multiple underlying meanings of which we associate it with. They usually relate to an individual’s subjective, emotional, and cultural experiences. But keep in mind that these words may also suggest very different meanings, depending on the time and place it is used. For instance, “bad” can simply refer to something that is not good, but to most young people of this modern age, the word “bad” can be interpreted as something “cool”.

Some words may have a positive or negative connotation that depends on the speaker’s social, personal, and cultural experiences. Below are a few examples of words with positive and negative connotations:

Positive Connotations

Examples:

  1. Dove – A dove typically implies peace and humility, which is why it has been a commonly-used symbol for anything that represents purity.
  2. Youthful – Saying that a person is youthful as an alternative to the word childish is an implication that he or she is full of life and energy. This is because being childish can sometimes be associated with immaturity, portraying a negative connotation instead.
  3. Slim – Thin is considered to be a neutral connotation. To make it positive, its synonym, slim, can take its place. With the human body being a sensitive topic to take on, using positive connotations is considered to be more acceptable to society.
  4. Mom and Dad – When used in place of mother and father, mom and dad simply connote loving parents. This is because it suggests a close bond between the speaker and the subjects being mentioned, considering how a mother and father can sometimes be seen as mere family figures than actual human beings.
  5. Challenging – Saying that something is difficult to do can often portray negativity, as it shows an emotional frustration towards what is being referred to. But if you describe it as challenging, then it reflects your positive attitude despite the trials that may come.

Negative Connotations

Examples:

  1. Retarded – Without giving much thought to the word, this would refer to a mentally-disabled individual. However, the meaning of such word has already lost its natural essence. This is due to how it has been used as an insult towards certain individuals and can be considered as too offensive for most people.
  2. Pushy – When we refer to a person as being too pushy, it implies that we have a high level of annoyance against them. Pushy is synonymous with being aggressive and forceful. When used in a sentence, it becomes a negative connotation. You may also see the examples of symbolism in poetry.
  3. Babe – If taken literally, this is short for baby. But informally speaking, the word “babe” is considered to be a pet name used to address an individual that one is in a sexual or romantic relationship with. It portrays affection, but it has also become a subject of sexual harassment issues in the past decade, gaining a negative reputation over time.
  4. Chicken – We may know this as a dish that goes great with ketchup or gravy, but being chicken can also imply something else. This is often associated with cowardly actions and behavior portrayed by a particular individual.
  5. Childish – If youthful is a positive connotation, then childish would be its exact opposite. Being childish shows how low one’s level of maturity can be, which is relatively inappropriate for the individual’s age and personality.

Connotation Pairs

These are just a few examples of connotations that come hand in hand. The first has a negative connotation, while the latter is positive.

Examples:

  • Bum — Homeless
  • Cheap — Inexpensive
  • Conceited — Self-confident
  • Lazy — Relaxed

If you’re wondering why connotations are so important to our everyday language, think about it this way. Imagine seeing a TV advertisement over a pair of shoes. Are you likely to purchase the pair of shoes if the advertiser referred to it as cheap instead of inexpensive? Naturally, this would be a major marketing strategy no-no in any scenario. That’s because saying that something is cheap could have many implications. You could be referring to more than just the price of the item, but to the quality of the material being used as well. This is why it is important to use the proper connotations while constructing your sentences.

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Denotation

Denotation typically refers to words with dictionary definitions. The literal meaning of a word helps us better understand its figurative association. So it’s almost impossible to understand the connotation of a word unless we are fairly knowledgeable about its denotation first.

Examples: 

  1. Rose – A rose is a popular type of flower. Because of its appearance, it has also become a symbol of love and beauty. In fact, there are various literary works that use metaphor and simile examples such as this to affectionately describe a person or thing.
  2. Chick – We all know that a chick is a baby bird. But these days, it is considered to be a derogatory term for women. While it’s still a term associated with females, in no way does it uphold the characteristics of a respected lady.
  3. Rock – If you take it literally, then it could generally mean a stone composed of some type of minerals. But apart from that, a rock could also refer to an individual who offers you security and stability.
  4. Home – A home may just be a structure built to place a roof on top of your head, but it’s also associated with the idea of family.
  5. Gay – Being gay would mean that you’re happy and carefree. But because times have changed and some words are understood differently by the majority of society, this word has become a widely-used reference for homosexuality.

Connotation and Denotation in Poetry

In literature, it’s not unusual for poets and writers to create novels and poetic pieces by shying away from the literal meaning of words. Connotation and denotation are two important terms in the world of poetry. Not only does it set the tone accordingly, but it also provides a deeper meaning to the poem. For one thing, density is just one of the many elements of poetry. With the help of connotation, for example, you can say a lot with just a few words. It helps create imagery without much effort. But it’s not about looking for the fanciest word on the thesaurus, as poets often go for the most suitable words to fit their writing. However, denotation has a special place in poetry as well. But this is usually found in the context of the poem itself, where the exact meaning of the word must be derived from its context.

It’s important to be aware that connotation and denotation are not the same as figurative language and literal meanings. Although they may involve similar concepts, connotation and denotation refer to actual word choices rather than the phrases or lines of the poem. Hyperbole expressions, assonance, consonance, and various metaphor examples are just some poetic devices used in writing to create feelings and emotions that go along with connotations and denotations.

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Connotation and denotation have both become a significant part of our language. Had writers been contented with just literal meanings of words, then the existence of abstract concepts and imaginative writing would have never existed. These words have paved the way for writers to explore the language based on social and cultural backgrounds. This also allows readers to enjoy broader and more vivid poetic pieces in the best way possible. You may also see the Metaphoric Poems.

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