When you look up a word in the dictionary, you will find its literal (denotative) meaning. However, the emotions and associations connected to a word is known as its connotative meaning. Depending on our experiences, certain words have a positive, negative, or neutral connotation.
Importance of Connotation
Understanding a word's literal (denotative) and suggestive (connotative) meanings is important for every speaker and writer. There are certain circumstances when you might want to deliberately use a word that carries less than a positive connotation; however, you may want to avoid mistakenly using a word with a negative or misleading connotation.
Depending on the context, the connotation of a word choice can change the meaning of a sentence considerably. For example, using the words "chick" or "babe" to refer to a woman often carry a negative connotation, especially if women are part of the audience. Those same words, however, may not cause much offence amongst a group of men talking about Angelina Jolie.
Examples of Connotative Words
Connotation Exercise #1
Below are groups of words which are often used to describe people. What are the connotations of the words?
- Childlike, Youthful, Childish, Young
- Disabled, Crippled, Handicapped, Retarded
- Relaxed, Laid-back, Lackadaisical, Easy-going
- Slim, Skinny, Slender, Thin
- Cheap, Frugal, Miserly, Economical
- Young, Immature, Juvenile, Youthful
- Inquisitive, Interested, Curious, Convivial
- Confident, Secure, Proud, Egotistical
- Lovely, Knockout, Beautiful, Stunning
- Talkative, Conversational, Chatty, Nosy
- Childish and childlike implies that someone is immature, but youthful infers that someone is lively and energetic.
- Crippled, handicapped, and retarded have negative connotations and are no longer used because they are considered offensive.
- Lackadaisical means that someone is not interested and is lacking life.
- Skinny implies that someone is too thin.
- Cheap, frugal, and miserly infers that someone is not generous and is very stingy with their money.
- Immature and juvenile suggest that someone is childish.
- Inquisitive can mean that someone asks too many questions.
- Proud and egotistical mean that someone thinks very highly of themselves.
- Although knockout can be taken as a compliment, it can also be considered sexist when referring to a woman.
- Talkative and chatty can mean that someone talks too much; and nosy that someone asks too many questions.
Connotation Exercise #2
Read the sentences below. Can you identify the words that have a negative connotation?
- Bedford is an uppity neighborhood, but the rents are cheap.
- On my flight to Los Angeles, I sat next to this babe. She was absolutely stunning.
- Every morning my neighbor takes his mutt to the park. It always barks loudly when leaving the building.
- You need to be pushy when you are looking for a job.
- Bob is quite vocal at every staff meeting. He always speaks.
Answer Key: 1. Uppity; 2. Babe; 3. Mutt; 4. Pushy; 5. Vocal