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Teaching Denotation and Connotation Usage of Words

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 3/2/2012

Denote and connote are sometimes confusing for kids to discern. These tips will help you to teach them the differences.

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    Let's begin with the denotation of these two words before we get to a list of words that show connotation and denotation.

    • Denotation: the strict, "dictionary" definition of a word.
    • Connotation: the emotions attached to a word. The emotion can be either positive or negative.

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    Metaphoric Connotation in the Animal Kingdom

    The connotation of animals has lent metaphorical meaning to commonalities. This list of animals with its associated connotations exemplify denotation vs connotation.

    According to denotation, a weasel is a small carnivorous mammal with short legs and elongated body and neck. According to connotation, a weasel is not to be trusted. Let's take a look at some other animals:

    • A snake is something to be feared for its deception.
    • A dog connotes a shameless beggar or an ugly face.
    • A fox is sneaky or sly. A foxy woman, however, is desired.
    • A shark is ruthless.
    • A predator seeks to harm innocents.

    Not all animal metaphoric connotations are negative:

    • A dove is gentle.
    • A hen is motherly.
    • A beast dominates (sometimes negative and sometimes positive).
    • Chicks are sought after by boys of all ages (some predators, by the way).
    • Owls are wise.

    Because these metaphors have become common (what if I would have written trite instead of common?), their connotative meaning is easy to recognize. This is not always the case.

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    Denotation vs Connotation: Common Usage

    Robert Kiyosaki in The Cashflow Quadrant states, "If you want to be a leader of people, then you need to be a master of words." I say, "if you're going to be a master of words, you better choose them carefully." Understanding denotation and connotation is an important concept in choosing the correct word. Here's a list of words that show connotation and denotation differences.

    • Those who are lonely and detached live in a house. Those who live with loved ones and in happiness live in a home.
    • A mother and father have procreated. A mom and a dad are loving parents.
    • Many wise men have made plans. Many cunning scoundrels have devised a scheme.
    • Pushy salespeople are to be avoided. Aggressive salespeople make a lot of money.
    • I'm sick and tired of listening to politicians, but give me a good statesman any day of the week and we'll get things done.

    Other common examples of differences in connotation. The word on the left is the positive or less negative connotation.

    • chef vs. cook
    • teacher vs. professor
    • plagiarizer vs. cheater
    • thrifty vs. tightwad
    • stay-at-home mom vs homemaker vs housewife
    • ambitious vs greedy
    • submissive vs lazy
    • slow vs stupid
    • amazed vs stupefied
    • slender vs gaunt
    • promiscuous vs slutty
    • clever vs shrewd
    • substance abuser vs druggie
    • journalist vs reporter
    • eccentric vs weirdo
    • mentally unstable vs wacko
    • inexpensive vs cheap
    • invest vs speculate
    • purchase vs buy
    • manufactured home vs trailer

    This is by no means an exhaustive list of words with connotative significance. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

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    Connotation and Denotation Lesson Plan

    English teachers rejoice. Denotation vs connotation makes for a creative lesson:

    1. Write two lists of words on the board--one list containing words with a negative connotation and one list of words with a positive connotation.
    2. Give the basic plot for a short story or the basic premise for a biographical article.
    3. Instruct half the students in the class to write using positive words (choose an appropriate number of words from the list).
    4. Instruct half the students in the class to write using negative words.
    5. Selected students will read their writing to the class. Do not skip the class reading and discussion. This allows students to analyze the power of words and the importance of word choice.
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    Sources

    • Public domain image courtesy of Clkr.com
    • Kiyosaki, Robert. Cashflow Quadrant: Rich Dad's Guide to Financial Freedom (2000).

Connotation and Denotation

Understanding the concept of connotation and denotation is an important aspect of language acquisition.
  1. Teaching Denotation and Connotation Usage of Words
  2. Stories and Literature Using Connotation and Denotation