Difference Between Connotation and Denotation

Connotation vs Denotation

English language has hundreds of thousands of words and each word has other words that stand very close to its meaning. These words are known as synonyms though each word has multiple meanings and can be used in different contexts. Every word has a denotation and a connotation. Denotation meant the literal meaning of the word, whereas connotation is the figurative meaning of the word. The actual meaning of the word is its denotation, whereas all other words and objects that come to mind refer to its connotative meaning. Let us take a closer look.

When there is a mention of ladies through the word woman, there is no connotation at all and the only image that crosses our mind is that of an adult lady. But what when the word used is chick? This is what brings associated images of glamorous girls and those being smart and sexy. When you read or see a rose, you know that it literally means a red flower while its connotations are love, passion, Valentine’s Day and many more.


It is thus clear that denotations are exact, literal meanings of words that are to be found in dictionaries. When we are confused by a word and look up the dictionary to find its meaning. The meaning in the dictionary is its denotative meaning. Let us take up the simplest of concepts to understand the difference between denotation and connotation. We all know that home is the place where we live. It is our primary residence and not the one where we have to live at times temporarily. This is the denotative meaning of the word home. Denotation is neutral in the sense that there are no positive or negative feelings generated in mind.


The meanings of the word that we conjure up and associate them with positive and negative feelings are its connotations. For example, the word home connotes feelings of security, happiness, comfort, family etc that are its connotations.

Language is not limited to the lexicon or literal meanings of a word and we feel constricted by denotative meaning of a word. We are content only when we associate a word with positive or negative feelings as evaluation is a basic human instinct. Thus when an author says there is not place like home, he is not referring to the denotation meaning of the word which is residence. Rather he is trying to evoke feelings of comfort, security happiness and family by using the word in this context. 

See the difference between these two usages of two synonyms.

There are millions of vagrants in this country

There are millions of people without a home in this country

There are millions of homeless in this country

The first sentence tells us that there are vagrants in the country that produces negative feelings as we associate vagrancy with crime and social deviance. The second sentence feels neutral as no adjective is used. The third sentence arouses feelings of compassion and sympathy for poor people who are homeless in this country.


What is the difference between Connotation and Denotation?

• There are both denotation and connotation of most of the words that are described as literal and figurative meanings of words.

• While denotative meaning is what the word literally stands for, it is connotative meaning that gives a language its expressiveness

• If the word does not arouse positive or negative feelings, it is denotation whereas connotation gives us feelings and associations that are either positive or negative.