Connotation is a further understanding of a word's meaning. (As well as a literal meaning, a word can also carry an additional idea or feeling, called its connotation.)

Easy Examples of Connotation

The examples below all denote an adult female, but they have different connotations (i.e., additional associated ideas). In all examples in this section, the connotations are underlined.
  • She's an adult.
  • (connotation: a sensible woman)
  • She's a real woman.
  • (connotation: a curvaceous woman)
  • She's a real lady.
  • (connotation: a classy woman)
  • She's a real babe.
  • (connotation: an attractive woman)

Real-Life Examples of Connotation

A word can have a positive, neutral or a negative connotation.
  • 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.)
Connotation contrasts with 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-centred) has a negative connotation.)

Why Should I Care about Connotation?

As a writer, you can influence your readers' opinions with the words you choose. The connotations of your chosen words are key to inserting some deliberate bias into your text.
  • 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-centred. Her sentence is an attack not just a statement.)

    By choosing words with the right connotations or with no connotations, you can present a non-biased text or biased one ranging from subtly nudging your readers towards your position to exposing your position with a rant. It's all in your word choice and the connotations of those words.

    There is more on influencing your readers in the section on emotive language.

    Key Points

    • Thinking about connotation will help you to nail the right word. It will allow you to:
      • Create an unbiased text by selecting words with no, or very light, connotations.
      • Create a deliberately biased text (from subtly biased to obviously prejudiced) by selecting words with connotations that suit your needs.
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