Connotation & Denotation

Connotation & Denotation

Author: Sydney Bauer
This lesson introduces connotation and denotation.
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Introduction to Psychology

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Connotation and Denotation


Denotation is the dictionary definition of a term. It is the literal meaning of a word, what a term means.

Connotation is the emotions, thoughts, images, and associations attached to a word. It is what a term implies. Terms can have positive, negative, or even neutral connotations. It all depends on the context, how and where the word is used.


A set of terms could have the same denotation (definitions), but make different impressions on readers because they have different connotations, or they are used in a certain way to imply different meanings.


Let’s look at two pairs of terms that have very similar denotations, but different connotations.

Example #1: berserk and irrational

  • Both terms denote unreasonable and illogical behavior
  • Berserk connotes behavior that is completely out of control, to the point of being reckless. It is a more extreme term
  • Irrational connotes behavior that is simply absurd or senseless; it implies a lack of logic rather than a lack of control.

Example #2: to finish and to terminate

  • Again, both terms denote bringing something to an end
  • “To finish” can have positive connotations: a sense of completion and accomplishment (finishing school, crossing the finish line); it can also have neutral connotations (I finished folding the laundry); and it can sometimes have negative connotations: a sense of an eternal end (You’re finished in this town! You’ll never work here again!)
  • “To terminate” really only has negative connotations: termination implies an eternal end, but does not imply completion or accomplishment. No one ever races to cross the “termination line.”
  • Again, we can see that one term is much more extreme than the other, even though they are very similar. 

Source: Definitions from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary