Quick reminder! Connotations are the feelings, images, and associations that are attached to words. Rather than be a word’s literal meaning, connotation is what a word implies. Words can share similar meanings or definitions, but evoke different responses from readers.
For example, compare the terms tombstone and headstone: they are both slabs of stone that are set at the head of a grave, and engraved with the dead person’s name, dates of birth and death, or other personal information. The difference lies in the connotation of each word.
Tombstone usually has negative connotations:
Headstone usually has positive (or even neutral) connotations:
So what’s the best way to evaluate the connotations of vocabulary words?
Let’s see this plan in action!
The following is a vocabulary word pulled from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Wakefield” (1835). First determine the tone of the writing. The narrator (speaker) seems to be both amazed and amused by Wakefield’s actions, but at the same time he calls Wakefield a fool, and comes across as a little negative.
Tone: amazed, amused, condescending, and somewhat playful
FREAK: an oddity, odd person, a whimsical disposition, and one who has sudden mood swings, or changes of mind.
Author’s use of the term: Howbeit, this, though far from the most aggravated, is perhaps the strangest instance on record of marital delinquency; and, moreover, as remarkable a freak as may be found in the whole list of human oddities.
If we combine the definition, tone, and how the term is used in the sentence, we could say that freak has negative connotations. The author mentions human oddities (like freaks in a circus sideshow) and uses words like aggravated, strangest, delinquency. There is also an undertone of amazement as the author uses the word “remarkable.”
Source: Definitions from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary