Denotation and Denote Definition



Refers to what a word literally means. It applies to the definition only. It does not speak to the feeling that a word invokes, or the common ways that the word is used. It’s just the literal actual dictionary definition. It’s also the act of referring to something by name.

  • When becoming an advanced speaker of English, you should know both the denotation and the way the word will make the person you’re speaking to feel.
  • What’s the denotation of this word?

It can also refer to a  sign or indication of something. For example droopy plant leaves could be a denotation that the plant did not receive enough water.

  • His black eye was a strong denotation that her son had been in another fight.
  • The Roman numeral three behind someone name denotes that they are the third person in their family with that same name.

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Refers to something symbolizing or standing in for a certain name. For example in court cases were the victim is a minor (under the age of 18) their name will often not be written into court documents.

Instead a symbol, such as “victim A” will be used to denote when they are being referred to.

  • What does X denote in our word problem?
  • From now on, the company will be denoted as Company A.

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Denotation vs Connotation

A word that is closely related, yet actually the opposite of denotation is connotation. While denotation is the literal word (dictionary definitions of a word), connotation includes other factors.


Refers to the idea or feeling that is invoked by a word. This feeling or idea may be the same as the definition, or it may be very different from the definition. Connotation is especially important when learning a language because it speaks to how words are used.

It also tells you about the type of reaction you should expect from saying a word to someone or about something. The connotation of a word may be universal, or it may be specific to a person.

When I say “the big city”, some people will get the idea of a busy exciting place full of opportunity. Someone else may get the feeling of a busy place with rude people and no space of their own.

The phrase means something different to everyone. If I say “Paris”most people think of a beautiful city filled with love. Even if that’s not what someone actually thinks of Paris, they know that’s that’s the idea the person saying it is trying to invoke.

Connotations are like the hidden meaning behind a word.

If the difference between connotation and denotation isn’t clear, I’ll simplify it now. The denotation is the literal dictionary definition of a word, while the connotation is the idea or feeling that you get when you hear a word.

Denotation is about the facts, while connotation is about emotions.

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Examples of Denotations vs Connotation:

Here are some common words and phrases, that have one dictionary definition (denotation), but invoke a completely different idea when said (connotation).


Denotation means to have good sharp judgement.

Connotation while having good judgement should be a good thing, this word brings up negative feelings. Usually when someone is referred to as shrewd they are thought of as cheap or out for themselves.

  • My mother was very shrewd. She’d never let us get new toys without justifying why we needed them first.


Denotation the place where one lives permanently.

Connotation home is technically a physical place, but in reality it’s a feeling (home is where the heart is). A child may move away from the home they grew up in, yet still refer to it as home even though they don’t live there anymore.

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But to them it’s where their family is, and it’s where they think of when they hear the word home.

  • I haven’t seen my family in 2 years since we moved to this country, I can’t wait to go home.


Denotation the offspring of a male donkey and female horse.

Connotation when someone is referred to as a mule, they are being called stubborn. Clearly they are not being called the baby of a donkey and a  horse. There’s a great expression for this, “as stubborn as a mule”.

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