What Is Connotation? | Definition, Meaning & Examples

Connotation is the suggested or implied meaning of a word beyond its literal definition. This additional meaning varies depending on a person’s individual experiences and cultural context. Connotation plays a crucial role in how we interpret language, as it adds layers of meaning beyond the explicit definitions of words.

Connotation example
The literal meaning of “home” is the place where one lives. However, it may also be associated with feelings of warmth, safety, or deprivation, depending on a person’s individual experience. These subjective associations are what we call connotations.

What is connotation?

Connotation refers to the implied feeling or idea that a word carries in addition to its literal meaning. These implicit meanings can be positive, negative, or neutral, and they can strongly influence how people perceive and respond to language.

Advertisers carefully choose words with positive connotations to influence consumer perceptions of their products or services. In the same way, writers may use connotations to create deeper layers of meaning and evoke specific emotions or associations in readers.

While connotation can be a powerful communication tool, it can also backfire. Words can have different connotations for different audiences, which can lead to misunderstandings. For example, a manager who describes their company’s marketing strategy as “aggressive” may intend to convey a sense of assertiveness and determination, but some team members may associate the word with negative ideas like hostility and forcefulness.

Connotation vs denotation

Connotation and denotation represent two distinct ways of understanding language. Here is the main difference between them:

  • Connotation refers to a word’s implicit or suggested meaning. It represents an additional layer of meaning that tends to be subjective or culture-specific. This implies that the associations, emotions, and attitudes that words evoke can vary among individuals or groups.
  • Denotation, on the other hand, refers to the explicit meaning of a word as we would see it in a dictionary. It is a straightforward definition free of cultural or emotional associations.
Connotation vs denotation exampleThe word “school” has a denotation of “a place where children go to be educated.” However, it may have other connotations, like “friendship,” “growth,’ or “boredom,” depending on how one has experienced school years.

What are the different types of connotations?

Connotations can be positive, negative, or neutral depending on the associations and emotions they evoke.

Positive connotation

A positive connotation refers to the favorable, pleasant, or beneficial associations that words tend to generate in people’s minds. Examples include terms like “successful,” “delight,” or “victory.” Understanding positive connotations can help writers and speakers evoke specific emotions in their audiences and convey their intended messages effectively.

Positive connotation examples
In marketing and advertising, products are often described as premium, innovative, or sustainable—all words with positive connotations, strategically chosen to entice consumers.

Negative connotation

A negative connotation refers to the unfavorable or unpleasant associations people have with words such as “failure,” “unhealthy,” or “angry.” These connotations tend to evoke feelings of fear, sadness, discomfort, etc. Recognizing which words can trigger negative emotions, thoughts, or reactions in people is vital in various aspects of communication, including conflict resolution and decision-making.

Negative connotation examplesNegative connotations in the media can shape how certain groups, individuals, or topics are portrayed and perceived by audiences.For example, media outlets may use terms like “crazy” or “deranged” when covering topics involving individuals with mental health conditions. This can reinforce harmful stereotypes and perpetuate the stigmatization of these individuals.

Euphemisms are sometimes used to mitigate negative connotations associated with certain words or topics (e.g., “correctional facility” instead of “prison”).

Neutral connotation

A neutral connotation refers to the absence of strong positive or negative associations with a word. Words with neutral connotations do not evoke any positive or negative emotions, interpretations, or reactions among people. Examples include the words “visitor,” “scent,” and “adolescent.”

Using words with neutral connotations is important when conveying information objectively, such as in scientific writing, legal proceedings, and professional interactions.

Neutral connotation examplesWhile the term “juvenile delinquents” is used in academic and legal contexts to describe young offenders, some professionals prefer the more neutral term “young people at risk” to avoid labeling and to emphasize the individual rather than their behavior.

Connotation examples

Below is a table illustrating the different types of connotation. However, it’s important to note that a word’s connotation may vary depending on cultural context and individual perspectives or experiences.

Words with positive, neutral, and negative connotations
Positive Neutral Negative
guest visitor intruder
home, mansion house, dwelling dump, shack
driven pushy
thrifty economical stingy
determined strong-willed stubborn
serene unperturbed apathetic
aroma scent, smell stench
childlike youthful childish, juvenile
slender thin emaciated
extraordinary unusual strange
dignified, composed reserved, quiet aloof, unapproachable

Frequently asked questions about connotation

What is a synonym for connotation?

Synonyms for connotation include “undertone,” “implication,” and “suggestion.” Each of these words refers to an idea or quality that is suggested by a word or thing.

What is the difference between connotation and denotation?

Connotation and denotation are two concepts related to the meaning of words, but they should not be confused:

  • Connotation refers to the subjective associations or feelings a word brings to our minds, beyond its literal meaning. These associations can be positive, negative, or neutral. For example, the word “father” may evoke connotations of protection, guidance, or authority.
  • Denotation, on the other hand, refers to a word’s literal or dictionary definition that is commonly understood by people who speak the same language. The denotation of “father” for instance is typically that of “male parent.”

In short, whereas connotation refers to a word’s secondary or implied meaning, denotation refers to a word’s primary or explicit meaning.

Why is connotation important?

Connotations are a crucial aspect of effective communication because they add layers of meaning beyond the literal definitions of words.

Connotation refers to the emotional, personal, or cultural associations that words carry, which influence how they are interpreted. By being aware of these subtle nuances in meaning, we can choose words that evoke specific emotions or resonate with our audience, thus making our text or presentations more engaging and impactful.

Is this article helpful?
Kassiani Nikolopoulou, MSc

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.