Difference between Connotation and Denotation

Updated on April 10, 2017

The words “connotation” and “denotation” are two of the many words that are often incorrectly interchanged. Many people think that because they have almost the same spelling, they also somewhat have the same meanings. Contrary to popular belief, “connotation” and “denotation” are completely different from each other.

Definitions

Connotation

Connotation means “the abstract meaning of a word” or “the idea that a word suggests.” It is the implied meaning of a term or anything that is associated with it. It can be positive or negative.

One person’s connotation of a specific word may differ from another person’s connotation of the same word. This is because a connotation is constructed based on how a person perceives the meaning based on his experience, background, culture, and emotional, imaginative, and personal association. For instance, the word “monkey” may mean “uncivilized,” “thief,” or “trickster” in some parts of the world, while it may hold a completely different connotation elsewhere.

On the other hand, denotation means “the basic or literal meaning of a word.” It is the direct and primary definition of a term that you can find in the dictionary.

The denotation of a word is not dependent on the person’s background, social association, or culture because it is the explicit meaning of a word. This means that the word “monkey” means the same thing even if you are in Asia and the person you are talking to is in Europe: “a tree-dwelling primate that typically has a long tail.”

Connotation vs Denotation

What, then, is the difference between connotation and denotation?

“Connotation” is the unspoken or implied meaning of a term, whereas “denotation” is the explicit or literal meaning of a word that you can find in the dictionary.

The connotation of a specific word may vary depending on the person’s background, culture, and emotional, imaginative, and personal association, whereas the denotation of a word is constant regardless of the person’s background or social associations because it is constant.

To better explain the difference between connotation and denotation, let us take a look at a few examples:

WordConnotationDenotation
PlasticA phony or fake person; hypocriteA synthetic material produced from polymers
SaintA gentle or kind person or a person who seems to be incapable of getting angryA person who is declared holy or virtuous after death
PigSomething/someone who is overweight or who eats a lotAn omnivorous hoofed mammal
GreenJealousViridescent
HotSomeone who is attractiveAt a high temperature

Always remember that “denotation” starts with the letter “d” which is for “dictionary” (dictionary meaning). Any association that is not found in the dictionary is the connotation of a word.

Comparison Chart

ConnotationDenotation
The abstract meaning of a word; the idea that a word suggests; the implied meaning of a term or anything that is associated with itThe basic or literal meaning of a word; the direct and primary definition of a term that you can find in the dictionary
Based on experience, background, culture, and emotional, imaginative, and personal association of a personNot dependent on the person’s background, social association, or culture because it is the explicit meaning of a word