Difference Between Connotation and Denotation

Main Difference – Connotation vs Denotation

Connotation and Denotation are both associated with the meaning of a word. Denotation is the literal meaning or the dictionary meaning of a word. Connotation refers to the personal, emotional and cultural associations of that word. This is the main difference between connotation and denotation.

What is Connotation

Connotation refers to the meaning that is implied by the word, rather than its literal meaning. Words are usually associated personal and cultural meanings in addition to their primary, literal meaning. Connotation refers to this personal and cultural association. For example, let’s look at the word heart. The literal meaning of the word implies an organ that pumps blood. But heart connotes love.

We can also see some differences between synonyms due to this concept of connotation. For example, the two words home and house denote the same thing, but home is associated with family, love, comfort and security whereas house is not.

Connotation is often described as being positive and negative. For example, look at the words childish and child-like. Both these mean literary the same. But childish connotes negative qualities whereas childlike connotes more positive qualities like innocence. The same difference can be seen in gullible and naïve.

Look at the words below and try to think of connotations of these synonyms.

Loquacious, Chatty, Garrulous, Talkative

Inquisitive, Convivial, Interested, Curious

Slim, Skinny, Slender, Thin

Relaxed, Laid back, Easy going, Calm

Cheap, Inexpensive, Low-priced, Affordable

Choosing the correct word to suit the context is very important. For example, the two words youthful and juvenile have the same literal meaning, but they have different connotations. Imagine what would happen if we replace the word ‘youthful’ by ‘juvenile’ in the slogan for a face cream. 

Anti-aging cream, for a juvenile appearance

Anti-aging cream, for a youthful appearance

Difference Between Connotation and Denotation

Apple is associated with various concepts such as temptation, sin, lust, knowledge etc.

What is Denotation

Denotation is the primary meaning of a word.  It is the literal meaning, as indicated by dictionaries. The denotation of a word does not carry any hidden implications or cultural and emotional associations. It is the opposite of connotation.

The function of denotation becomes significant in literature when it is contrasted with the connotation of that word. Writers choose very specific diction based on the connotative and denotative meanings of words.

Given below are some examples of the difference between connotation and denotation of words.






love, affection


baby bird

derogatory term for women



dangerous, evil person


a mix between a horse and a donkey

stubborn person



depressed, sad



innocence, purity, cleanliness

Main Difference - Connotation vs Denotation

Difference Between Connotation and Denotation


Connotation refers to the personal and cultural meanings in addition to their primary, literal meaning of a word.

Denotation refers to the primary, literal meaning or the dictionary meaning of a word.


Connotation can be classified as positive connotation and negative connotation.

Denotation is not thus classified.

Culture and Personal Experience

Connotation can change according to culture and personal experiences.

Denotation remains the same regardless of culture and personal experiences.Difference Between Connotation and Denotation - infographic

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