What Is Denotation? Everything You Need To Know

What is denotation? If you are curious about the dictionary definition or the denotative meaning, take a look at a few key points below!

There are a lot of literary tools that writers often use to communicate a point. Two common examples include denotation and connotation. Denotation is the literal meaning of a word. If you look up the word's meaning in the dictionary and use it that way in a literary work, you have used its denotative meaning. In contrast, the connotation is the subjective definition of the word. The connotative meaning is the associated meaning of a word. Let's cover both in more detail, with examples.

An Overview of Denotation

What is denotation?

When a writer is trying to communicate an important point in literature, he or she needs to use the right word. That way, the reader gets the right impression. Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word.

Essentially, if you mean what you say, literally as the word is defined, you have used denotation. You should use denotation if you want to make sure the reader does not overlook something important. Or, if you want to emphasize an important point, then you should use denotation. 

An Overview of Connotation

Even though denotation is important, you also need to consider its connotation. Connotation is used to highlight associations connected to a certain word. For example, when you hear a word or phrase, there might be a number of emotions that rise to the surface.

Connotation and denotation are not meant to be separated, but connotative meanings often exist in parallel with the denotative meanings of a word. Connotation is also an important literary tool. If you know a word that evokes feelings in the reader, you may want to use it to get an important point across.

If you need help learning the finer points of grammar, start with a good grammar book. That said, let's explore a few examples of each grammar term.

Examples of Denotation and Connotation in Literature

What is denotation?
Every word has a dictionary definition, so every word has a denotative meaning

To figure out when you should use denotation and connotation, let’s start with the example of a snake.

If you mention a snake, you might be talking about an animal; however, if you take a look at the definition of the word in the dictionary, you will see another denotative meaning. A snake is a scaly reptile that might have venom and is usually legless. If you have a character that you want to describe in this way, you might call that person a snake. This is an example of denotation.

On the other hand, a snake has a number of connotative meanings as well. For example, you may mention a snake in your work, or use it metaphorically, to indicate evil or danger. Because a lot of people associate a snake with these feelings, this can be a powerful use of the word in literature. 

It might be helpful to take a look at another example as well. What do you think about when you hear the words house and home? They sound similar, but they evoke different emotions. The denotative definition of both of these words is a place where you live. Essentially, it's a place where you go to sleep, eat, and spend time with family members and friends. This is the denotative definition of both words, but the connotative definition is very different.

You probably think about privacy, security, love, and comfort when you think of a home. This is one of the biggest reasons why real estate professionals often use the word “home” instead of “house.” A house is just a building; however, home refers to someone's entire life. Even though both of these words may have the same dictionary definition, their connotative meetings are something else entirely. Some people take advantage of this and literature as well. 

Quick Points About Denotation and Connotation

Denotation and connotation are two important literary tools you may want to use in your work. You might also encounter them as you read. A few points to remember include:

  • Every word has a dictionary definition, so every word has a denotative meaning.
  • The connotative meaning of a word can change over time, but the denotative meaning does not.
  • Multiple words can have the same denotative meaning, just as in the example above with house and home. On the other hand, the two words may have different connotative meanings. 
  • Denotation and connotation are not mutually exclusive. Objective and subjective definitions are tied together. 

If you keep these points in mind, you should be able to use them effectively in your writing. 

Final Word on What Is Denotation

The denotation of a word is the dictionary definition of a word. If you take a look at the definition of a word in a dictionary, and you use it exactly as it has been described, you are using denotation. In contrast, the connotation is the subjective or associated feelings tied to a word.

A word can have different connotations, with some having a negative connotation and others having a positive connotation. Word choice is important, and you need to think about the word’s connotation as well as the denotation of the word when you use it in your writing. This will impact how the reader feels when he or she reads your work.

For self-editing, you can save a lot of time by using a good grammar checker.

FAQs About What Is Denotation?

What is the difference between denotation and connotation?

The denotation of the word is the literal definition. If you use the literal meaning of the word, you are using its denotative meaning. In contrast, the connotation is a subjective definition. It refers to the feelings and emotions that someone may feel when they read that word. This is an important area of semantics and semiotics.

How can I make sure I use the right word in my work?

You should always take a look at a thesaurus to find synonyms. That way, you can use the right word in the correct location. 

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