In this lesson, you’ll learn what connotation is and how it suggests more than a word’s literal dictionary meaning. Then take a look at some common examples of connotation.

Definition of Connotation

We all use connotation. We use it when we say ‘I want to go home,’ meaning not just a physical place, but a place of security and comfort. We use it when we say ‘Irene really knows how to pinch a penny’ meaning that she is thrifty, not that she actually pinches pennies. When we say ‘What a rotten day this has been’ or ‘My Uncle Jim is a snake’ we don’t mean that the day we just had is actually decaying, or that Uncle Jim is a limbless, scaly reptile. We are using the connotations of words to suggest meanings that go above and beyond their literal dictionary meanings.

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Connotation is the meaning that a word suggests or implies above and beyond its literal meaning. Connotation includes the emotions or associations that surround a word. A word’s connotations can be either positive or negative and will depend on the context in which it is used, and to some degree, on the reader or hearer.

Examples of Connotation

Connotation is created when you mean something else, something that might be hidden. The connotative meaning of a word is based on a shared emotional association with that word. ‘Greasy,’ for example, is a completely innocent word; some things, like car engines, need to be greasy. But ‘greasy’ contains negative associations for most people, whether they are talking about food or about people.

The word ‘modern’ strictly means ‘belonging to recent times,’ but, the word’s connotations can be negative and include ‘unfeeling,’ ‘impersonal,’ and ‘mechanical,’ if it is used within the context of bringing back the good old days or aimed at an audience that may see modern life as an empty, violent, or immoral existence. In the context of moving forward into the future, and to those who may see modern life as one of possibility and growth, the word’s connotations can include more positive ones such as ‘new,’ ‘up-to-date,’ and ‘experimental.’

Metaphors, or words that describe one thing in terms of another, are made possible by the fact that the two things they identify have overlapping connotations. For example, the word ‘worm’ literally means ‘a small, slender invertebrate.’ But its connotation of slow burrowing activity can be used to describe a person who charms and manipulates someone to gain an advantage as worming his way into her favor, while other connotations such as sliminess and insignificance can be used to describe a person simply as a worm.

Words can take on more meanings or connotations because of how they are used over time. Consider the changes that have occurred in the last decade in words such as conservative, liberal, fundamental, relationship, and piracy. Words can also take on connotations that are opposite to their literal meaning, such as ‘bad’ being used as a slang term for something good.

Lesson Summary

Remember, connotation is the meaning that a word suggests or implies above and beyond its literal meaning. Connotation includes the emotions or associations that surround a word. A word’s connotations can be either positive or negative and depend on the context in which it is used. The person using or responding to a word can, to some degree, determine the connotation.

Metaphors, or words that describe one thing in terms of another, are possible because the two things being compared have overlapping connotations. Words at times take on more meanings or connotations because of how they are used over time. Words can also take on connotations that are opposite to their literal meaning, such as ‘bad’ meaning good.