Connotation and Denotation Examples

Denotation and Connotation

Denotation and Connotation

Denotation is the literal meaning of a word. The dictionary definition. What you would find if you pulled out Webster’s dictionary and looked this word up. The connotation of a word is the whole literal meaning, plus all the emotion emotions that word might evoke. Connotation is more subjective.

If someone has had certain experiences, or feels a certain way about a word, or has memories associated with the word, they may feel a different way when they see a word than someone who hasn’t had those same experiences. Connotation can be different for each reader. Let’s look at some examples.

Cheap vs Inexpensive. Both cheap and inexpensive mean not costing a lot of money. Dictionary definition. They both mean not costing a lot of money. Now, when you hear the word “cheap”, you sometimes think low quality. You think that if it’s cheap, it doesn’t cost a lot of money, because it’s got low quality. With “inexpensive”, it’s more of a neutral word. You just think “not costing a lot”. This one doesn’t have the same connotation. Expensive doesn’t make you think that you’re getting a lower quality item, where something cheap might make you think that.

Let’s look at another example. “Rat”. A rat is actually a long-tailed rodent, but sometimes people are going to use that in a sentence that doesn’t quite mean a long-tailed rodent. They’re using it expecting you to get a certain connotation of someone being dirty or sleazy. Someone may say, “He is such a rat.” It means that it’s a sleazy person. He is a sleazy person. This one is a little bit special. It’s one of those that you can think about the connotation and think about who the reader is. If the reader is someone that likes rats, it’s an animal lover, or they’ve even had a rat for a pet, then they may not think that rats are dirty rats or sleazy. They may think, “Oh, they’re such cuddly creatures.” They may just think of them more in the long-tailed rodent situation.

That’s where connotation is more subjective. Most people will still understand that, in certain sentences, “rat” is being used to mean something negative. Now, let’s look at some examples with the word “snake” and figure out which one is showing denotation and which one is showing connotation. “If he weren’t such a snake, we could rely on him to tell the truth.” Really, a snake is a reptile that slithers along the ground, but certain connotations come with a snake. People may think of someone dishonest or someone unreliable. We have to look and see if, in this sentence, they’re talking about an actual reptile or if they’re talking about a person that maybe isn’t honest or reliable.

In this sentence, you see the words “rely” and “truth”, which tells you that you may be looking at the meaning that isn’t so literal. “If you weren’t such a reptile slithering along the ground, we could rely on to tell the truth.” That doesn’t make much sense. “If he weren’t such a liar, or a distrustful person, or an unreliable person we could rely on him to tell the truth.” Since this one has more to do with what you might think a snake means, what the literal meaning of a snake is, this one is showing the connotation of the word. You’re thinking more of a liar or a distrustful person.

Let’s look at the next sentence. “One of the largest types of snakes is the boa constrictor” Are we talking about reptiles? “One of the largest types of reptiles that slither along the ground is the boa constrictor.” Is that a person that doesn’t tell the truth? “One of the largest types of people that don’t tell the truth is the boa constrictor.” That one doesn’t make much sense. For this one, they give you an example of an actual snake so you can tell this is the literal meaning, which is going to be the denotation.

You can see that understanding if the word is using a connotation or denotation is going to help you understand what the sentence is about. When you are reading, understanding if you’re looking at the denotation or connotation of words can make a world of difference to that sentence’s meaning.

Provided by: Mometrix Test Preparation

Last updated: 04/23/2018
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