Connotation: Definition, Usage and Effective Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is connotation?
  2. How is connotation used?
  3. Contrast between connotation and denotation
  4. Effective examples of connotation in literature
  5. How to use connotation in your writing

When we think about words, we often consider their dictionary meaning. But did you know words carry an extra layer of meaning too? This layer, known as connotation, gives words their emotional or cultural flavor. A good understanding of connotation can take your language skills from good to great. So let's dive into the world of connotation.

What is connotation?

At its core, the definition of connotation refers to the feelings, ideas, or associations a word evokes beyond its literal or dictionary meaning. Connotations can be positive, negative, or neutral, and they often play a crucial role in shaping our perception of what's being communicated. Let's break that down a bit more.

Connotation vs Literal Meaning

Imagine the words "home" and "house". While both terms describe a place where people live, "home" often brings to mind feelings of comfort, warmth, and belonging. On the other hand, "house" is more neutral—it simply refers to a building. Here, "home" has a positive connotation, while "house" sticks to the literal definition. This shows how connotations can add a layer of meaning to words.

Types of Connotation

Connotation isn't one-size-fits-all. It can be categorized into three types:

  1. Positive connotation: These words elicit positive emotions. For example, the word "gift" might remind you of birthdays, surprises, and moments of joy.
  2. Negative connotation: These words stir up negative emotions. For example, the word "swarm" might make you think of overbearing crowds or pesky insects.
  3. Neutral connotation: These words don't carry strong emotions or associations. They stick to the facts, like the word "book".

The Role of Context

Remember, the connotation of a word can change depending on the context. For instance, the word "childlike" might have a positive connotation if used to describe someone's innocent curiosity. But in a different context, like describing someone's maturity level, "childlike" could have a negative connotation.

Understanding the definition of connotation, its types, and the role of context will help you pick the perfect words to convey your intended meaning. So the next time you write or speak, remember—every word carries more than just its dictionary definition.

How is connotation used?

Now that we've grasped the definition of connotation, let's explore how it's used in everyday language, literature, and marketing. Many times, we use and recognize connotation without even realizing it—like tasting the secret ingredient in a delicious meal without knowing what it is.

Everyday Language

Connotation is everywhere in our daily conversations and interactions. Consider the words "confident" and "cocky". Both describe someone who's sure of themselves, but "confident" has a positive connotation, making us think of self-assured individuals. "Cocky", on the other hand, has a negative connotation, painting a picture of someone overly arrogant. So, the connotation of the words we choose can subtly influence how others perceive our messages.


In literature, authors skillfully use connotation to add depth to their characters, settings, and themes. For example, describing a character's house as "cozy" instead of "small" can change our perception from negative to positive. Similarly, using a word like "invaded" instead of "visited" can create a sense of threat and tension. So, connotation is a powerful tool in the hands of a writer.

Marketing and Advertising

Ever wonder why a product is described as "innovative" instead of "new"? Or a service is labeled "exclusive" rather than "limited"? That's connotation at work. Marketers use words with positive connotations to make products and services more appealing. They know that the right words can evoke emotions that drive purchase decisions.

So, whether you're chatting with friends, engrossed in a novel, or deciding which cereal to buy—connotation is shaping your language and your perceptions. When you start to notice it, you'll see it's like a secret language hidden in plain sight.

Contrast between connotation and denotation

Now that we’ve discussed the definition of connotation and its use, let’s talk about its counterpart: denotation. The relationship between connotation and denotation is a bit like a coin—two sides of the same piece. While both are about meaning, they offer different perspectives.

Denotation: The Literal Side

Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word—the literal, straightforward meaning. For example, the denotation of the word "rose" is a type of flower. It's as easy as looking up a word in a dictionary. There's no hidden or implied meaning. It's all about facts, the black and white.

Connotation: The Emotional Side

Connotation, as we've established, is about the emotions and associations connected to a word. It's more about the gray areas. Going back to our "rose" example, the connotation may suggest love, romance, or even secrecy, given its use in phrases like "sub rosa". So, while denotation tells us what a word means, connotation tells us how it feels.

Why the Contrast Matters

Understanding the contrast between connotation and denotation isn’t just for bookworms or word nerds. It’s useful for anyone who uses language—that is, all of us. Recognizing whether a word is being used for its denoted meaning or its connoted meaning can help us communicate more effectively, avoid misunderstandings, and appreciate the richness of language. In sum: denotation is the meal, connotation is the spices. Both are necessary for a delicious dish of language!

Effective examples of connotation in literature

Now that we have a firm grasp on the definition of connotation and its relationship with denotation, let's see how connotation comes to life in literature. After all, literature is like a playground for words, where they get to show off their connotative prowess!

"Dove" in Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare was a master of connotation. In Romeo and Juliet, he uses the word "dove" to describe Juliet. Now, a dove is a bird—no big deal, right? But the connotation of "dove" implies peace, purity, and innocence, painting a tender and endearing picture of Juliet in our minds.

"Scrooge" in A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens also had a knack for connotation. In A Christmas Carol, the character Scrooge's name has now become synonymous with miserliness and lack of charity—strong connotations that extend beyond the literal definition of the name.

"Brave New World" in Brave New World

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, the title itself is packed with connotation. "Brave New World" suggests optimism, courage, and a fresh start. But as we delve into the dystopian society Huxley portrays, the irony of this connotation becomes clear, adding depth to our understanding of the novel.

These examples show how authors use connotation to add layers of meaning to their work, creating a richer and more immersive reading experience. As you read, try to spot connotations—it's like a treasure hunt through the pages!

How to use connotation in your writing

Alright, you've seen the definition of connotation and its power in literature. But how can you harness this power in your own writing? Whether you're crafting a novel, a blog post, or even a text to a friend, here's how you can add depth and dimension to your words using connotation.

Choose your words carefully

Every word carries a connotation, like a hidden layer of meaning. So, when writing, consider the nuances of each word. For instance, calling someone "slim" instead of "skinny" can convey a more positive image. It's like selecting the right color to paint a picture—you want the shade that captures your intended mood and message.

Create rich characters

If you're writing a story, think about how connotation can help you create compelling characters. Just like Dickens did with Scrooge, you can use connotation to make your characters more vivid and memorable. Do you want your character to be seen as confident or arrogant? The choice of your words can make a big difference.

Set the tone

Connotation is also key in setting the tone of your writing. For example, describing a forest as "mysterious" instead of "scary" can create a sense of intrigue rather than fear. So, think about the emotional response you want to evoke in your readers, and choose your words accordingly.

Remember, connotation is like the secret weapon in your writing arsenal. Use it wisely and your words will come alive with depth, color, and emotion. And who knows? Maybe one day, your name will be among the greats like Shakespeare and Dickens, known for their skillful use of connotation!

If you enjoyed exploring the power of connotation in language and are interested in applying this concept to the world of art, don't miss the workshop 'An Idea: Conveying Art Conceptually' by Crystal Ma. This workshop will teach you how to incorporate connotation into your artwork, allowing you to create pieces with deeper meaning and stronger emotional impact.