Connotation vs Denotation

By Jonathan Ayer

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The Difference Between Connotation and Denotation

The differences and nuances between connotation and denotation are a popular topic to cover and review when discussing English grammar. Even after students are taught the difference in the early stages of learning, it is important to continue the discussion as word choice becomes more imperative in the mastery of writing, and word recognition is increasingly important to engage advanced reading. In order for students to best understand and apply the use of tone in writing and literature, they must have a firm grasp of the distinction between what words denote and connote.

Denotation is the strict, “dictionary” definition of a word. Connotation refers to the emotions and associations that attach to words, and expand beyond their proper definitions. Poor word choice or misrecognition of wording can dramatically alter imagery, tone, mood, or message of a piece. Revisiting the differences between the denotations of words and their connotations help students master their writing and reading.

As seen below, a misunderstanding can quickly change the literal meaning of a message (as is the case with "weasel"). It can also change the tone of the message, consider the difference between feelings evoked by "mom" and "mother". Some other denotation examples include words used to describe people like pig, chicken, bull, ox, or something like a teacher's pet.

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Showing Connotation and Denotation in Storyboards

Storyboards make a great medium for practicing and demonstrating this semantic challenge. Whether you use them as non-linguistic representations of the concept, or you have students explore the concept themselves by using and/or creating storyboards, it will strengthen their understanding of an important reading and writing skill. Here are a few example activities:

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Negative Connotation Examples

There are many words and phrases that we associate negatively for various reasons, sometimes brought on from a small number of examples, from a regional or cultural bias, or from past associations with the word. Take a look at the examples below and write down some of the first words you think of. Are there negative connotations with any of those words?


  • Lawyer
  • Politician
  • Tax Collector
  • Janitor
  • Fast Food Clerk
  • Secretary


  • Chicken
  • Cow
  • Snake
  • Rat
  • Sheep
  • Toad


  • Cheap
  • Childish
  • Lazy
  • Old-Fashioned
  • Poor

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    Common Core State Standards

    The activities above help address numerous areas of the Common Core State Standards, in particular, standards in language and writing.

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    Prefer a different language?

    •   (English) Connotation vs. Denotation   •   (Español) Connotación vs. Denotación   •   (Français) Connotation Contre Dénotation   •   (Deutsch) Konnotation Gegen Bezeichnung   •   (Italiana) Connotazione vs. Denotazione   •   (Nederlands) Connotatie vs. Denotatie   •   (Português) Connotação Versus Denotação   •   (עברית) קונוטציה לעומת משמע   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) دلالة مقابل الدلالة   •   (हिन्दी) अर्थ बनाम मुख्यार्थ   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Коннотационность Против Денотация   •   (Dansk) Konnotation vs Denotation   •   (Svenska) Klang vs. Beteckning   •   (Suomi) Mielleyhtymiä vs. Denotaatio   •   (Norsk) Konnotasjon vs. Denotation   •   (Türkçe) Anlam ve Gösterim   •   (Polski) Konotacja a Denotacja   •   (Româna) Conotatie vs. Denotația   •   (Ceština) Konotace vs. Označení   •   (Slovenský) Konotácia vs. Označenie   •   (Magyar) Konnotációja vs. Jele   •   (Hrvatski) Konotacija u Odnosu na Oznaku   •   (български) Конотация и Обозначаване   •   (Lietuvos) Konotacija vs Denotation   •   (Slovenščina) Konotacija vs. Zaznamovanje   •   (Latvijas) Nozīmes vs Apzīmējums   •   (eesti) Värvinguga vs Denotatsioon