“He’s such a dog!”
“This place feels like home.”
“Her face was a ray of sunshine.”
If each of these statements brought to mind certain feelings or ideas, it’s because each one carries a different connotation.
For example, when you read the first statement, you probably didn’t picture a man who looks like an actual dog, or some weird man-dog hybrid.
Calling someone (usually a man) a “dog” is a common way of saying that he is dirty, or unfaithful, or a skirt-chaser.
Ironic, considering that dogs are generally considered loyal companions. But notice how your interpretation changes if I say, “He turns into a puppy dog whenever she’s around.”
Instead of a womanizing brute, you now get a picture of someone who is shy, sweet, and eager for the company of one girl in particular.
Since meaning can change so drastically just by switching out a few words, it’s important to recognize the connotation of your words (both written and spoken) if you want to be understood by your audience.
What is Connotation?
Connotation refers to a feeling or idea that a word invokes for readers, in addition to its literal meaning.
The association implied by a word can be different from its dictionary definition, depending on how the word is used in a sentence and in what context.
Connotations can vary significantly between cultures, so it’s important to understand who you are writing for in order to avoid confusion.
Positive and Negative Connotations
Words can offer a positive, negative, or neutral connotation. Much of our interpretation will be based on cultural notions; even two words that mean literally the same thing can carry very different connotations, simply because we’ve come to use them that way without a second thought.
For example, “This sweater was so cheap!” carries a more negative connotation than “This sweater was so affordable!” or “inexpensive.” All three words mean that the sweater didn’t cost much, but “cheap” is a word we typically use to imply that something is poorly made or of low quality.
Positive Connotation Examples
Some words can be used to lend a more positive note to a sentence and indicate more admiration or appreciation than neutral words could afford.
She had a childlike wonder.
“Childlike” implies someone who is youthful and optimistic, whereas “childish” implies someone who is immature or naive.
The aroma of my grandmother’s cooking wafted into the living room.
“Aroma” tends to imply a pleasant smell, giving it a much more positive connotation than the word “smell” itself, or a more negative word like “stench.” We can infer that Grandma is cooking up something mouth-watering (rather than repulsive).
The slender girl made her way to the water.
“Slender” means “thin,” but generally carries a more positive connotation than “skinny,” which is usually used to describe an unattractive quality.
She was very interested to learn how we met.
“Interested” implies someone who genuinely cares to learn something. If we described the woman as “nosy,” however, her interest would be of a more intrusive nature.
That’s such a unique perspective!
“Unique” implies that something is special or rare. “Weird” or “peculiar,” however, are more negative ways to express that something is uncommon.
Sarah is a thrifty shopper; she knows how to save money.
“Thrifty” refers to someone who knows how to skillfully save money, which is generally an admirable quality. “Cheap” or “stingy” would refer to someone who pinches their pennies a little too much.
Negative Connotation Examples
If your intention is to convey a more negative view, some words are more useful than others.
Carla was very picky when it came to dating.
“Picky” carries a negative connotation, implying that someone is perhaps overly discriminatory. “Selective” would be a more positive way to frame the same sentence.
The party next door is very noisy.
“Noisy” implies that the sound is unwelcome. A more positive alternative might be “lively.”
Don’t be so pushy!
“Pushy” certainly carries a negative connotation, indicating someone who is both annoying and using too much force. “Determined” carries a much more positive meaning.
Our dog is a mutt.
“Mutt” is a less elegant and more negative alternative to “mixed-breed,” used when referring to dogs.
Download this list of connotation examples for your reference.
Connotation and Word Choice
If you want to convey your ideas clearly and avoid misunderstandings between you and your audience, you must pay careful attention to your word choice and understand the connotation your words carry.
If you understand the power and diversity of words, you can also use literary devices like similes and metaphors to more creatively convey your message.
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