A connotation is the implied or suggested meaning of a word. It is contrasted to denotation, which is the word’s literal meaning.
A connotation is often used to describe the emotional associations that a word evokes. Generally, we have three types of connotations-positive, neutral and negative.
- Positive connotation: The word “home” might have positive connotations of safety and comfort
- Neutral connotation: The word “house” might have a neutral connotation. It’s an objective way of describing where you live.
- Negative connotation: The word “prison” might have negative connotations of confinement and punishment. So, a teenager colloquially saying “My house is a prison” to refer to their house is giving their house a negative connotation.
In many cases, the connotations of a word will be determined by its cultural context. For example, the word “witch” might have very different connotations in a culture that reveres witches than in a culture that persecutes them.
|Denotation||Negative Connotation||Neutral Connotation||Positive Connotation|
|A muscular person||Brutish||Muscular||Strong|
|A confident person||Arrogant||Self-assured||Confident|
|Rich people||The 1%||Wealthy||Self-Made|
|Someone who saves money||Stingy||Frugal||Thrifty|
|A failing student||Stupid||Failing||Uninspired|
|A young dog||Mutt||Dog||Puppy!|
|Boss giving commands||Bossy||Assertive||Leader|
|A popular person||Socialite||Friend|
|A person who’s happy with their achievements||Smug||Pleased||Proud|
|Good student||Teacher’s pet||Studious||Superstar|
|Used Car||Rust bucket||Used||Pre-loved|
|A well-organized person||Control freak||Organized||Prepared|
- Helpful – This word has positive connotations of someone who is always giving their time. Another person may see a ‘helpful’ person as ‘a people pleaser’ which is a negative way to frame it.
- Amazing – This word suggests that the person is very impressive or even surprisingly so!
- Self-Confident – This word has positive connotations of assurance and belief in oneself. If you called the same person ‘arrogant’, then you’ll be framing them more negatively.
- Caring – This word suggests that the person is kind and concerned for others. Generally, we think of a caring person positively.
- Lazy – This word has negative connotations of someone being unproductive and unmotivated. That person might think this negative connotation is unfair and would describe themselves as just ‘tired’ or ‘unmotivated’.
- Stupid – This word has negative connotations of someone being unintelligent or lacking common sense. A more positive word for this person might be ‘street smart, not academic’ or ‘struggling with school’.
- Disinterested – A person who is disinterested might be framed more negatively (“They’re a boring person!”) or positively (“The class is just not stimulating!”). Or, you can stay objective and just say that they’re disinterested.
- Baby – If you don’t like babies, you might call them ‘brats’; if you like them, you might call them ‘Cherubs’, but if you don’t want to provide a connotation, you can just call it a ‘baby’.
Using Connotations in Writing
When you’re writing, try to be aware of the connotations of the words you’re using. It will help you to more effectively frame your subjects and narrative.
The connotations of a word can add layers of meaning to your writing and help to create the desired tone and atmosphere.
For example, let’s say you’re writing a letter to your boss asking for a raise.
You might want to avoid using any words with negative connotations, as this could make you seem unprofessional or ungrateful, which might prevent you from getting the raise you want.
On the other hand, if you’re writing a love letter, you might want to use words with positive connotations to create a romantic mood.
Connotations are the emotional associations that a word evokes. They can be positive, negative, or neutral, depending on the word you use.
When you’re writing, it’s important to be aware of the connotations of the words you’re using in order to create the desired tone or atmosphere in your piece.
If you’re writing a fiction piece, focus on the connotations you write about various characters to see how you’re positioning each character for the reader.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.