Writing

Connotation in Writing (Definition, Purpose, How To Write + Examples)

Posted: October 12, 2022
Word count: 1,317 (5 min)

Connotation in writing is attaching an implied, subjective meaning to something.

Tomas Laurinavicius profile photo

Tomas Laurinavicius

Co-founder & Chief Editor, Best Writing

Blog post cover picture

What is Connotation in Writing? (Definition)

Connotation is the implication of meaning for a word or phrase, which is different from its literal meaning. Merriam-Webster defines connotation as “something suggested by a word or thing.”

Connotation helps establish the mood or context in writing. There are different connotations, and they help direct the readers to feel a certain way the writers wanted.

Connotation is opposed to denotation. Denotation is the explicit meaning of a word or sentence. One word can have a literal meaning and an implied meaning.

For example, the sentence, “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 18), can have different connotations.

The sentence's literal meaning is if one should be compared to a day in summer. The connotative meaning is that the one is beautiful, refreshing, and fleeting like the English summer.

Why Do Writers Use Connotation? (Purpose)

Writers use connotations for many reasons.

You can use connotations creatively.

You can express one thing in various ways.

Connotations add layered meanings to a text, creating depth and making it pleasurable to readers.

Connotation is a literary device that employs many other literary devices for functioning.

How do Connotations Work?

Connotations work by splitting a literal meaning into one or several ideas that create varied emotional associations for the reader.

They help make a point that is abstract, sublime, idealistic, beyond the dictionary definition of words.

Connotation works by implementing literary devices such as symbolism, allegory, metaphor, simile, synonyms.

Books such as Animal Farm and Scarlet Ibis heavily use connotative meanings.

It also sets the tone for the text and puts the reader in a specific zone they need to be in to enjoy the reading.

Types of Connotation in Writing

Connotations come in different shades: light, dark, and grey. They can be positive, negative, or neutral connotations.

Let’s discuss this further.

Positive Connotation

Positive connotations imply an affirmative, positive meaning.

Examples of positive connotations are:

  • "She has a heart of gold." Connotes good or a kind woman.
  • "You’re an angel!" Connotes that one is highly virtuous.
  • "This feels like home." Connotes something that brings the emotion one attaches to their home or comfort zone.

A positive connotation can elevate the object's status of connotation, convey approval, favor, and is appreciative in nature; that is, it shows something in a positive light.

Negative Connotation

Negative connotations give rise to a sense of unfavorable, dissatisfactory feelings.

Negative connotation examples include:

  • "I am feeling blue." Connotes that one is sad.
  • "Don’t talk like a bitch." Describes a mean person.
  • "You’re such a nerd." Describes a well-informed person negatively.

Negative connotation depends more on context than positive connotation. They are demeaning and used as passive insults.

Neutral Connotation

Positive or negative connotations have the power to conjure certain feelings.

  • "My Romeo awaits." Connotes one's lover is waiting for them. William Shakespeare's Romeo has become the archetype of symbolizing a lover.
  • "I’m a movie geek." Means that one loves watching movies.

Neutral connotations imply without elevating or insulting nothing positive or negative.

Examples of Connotation in and Outside Literature

Literature is filled with examples of connotation.

Literature is the hub of creativity and writers use connotative words liberally to attain depth and create new meanings.

So widely used is the device that certain words have a certain idea attached to them, and over time, that becomes the natural meaning.

For example, things in nature, like the sky, birds, flowers, are heavily used by poets for describing beauty, temporariness, eternity.

Examples of Connotation in Literature

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

The imaginary blood Lady Macbeth finds on her hands, the vision of Banquo's ghost connotes the materialization of guilt in the characters.

📚 Buy on Amazon

Lord of The Flies by William Golding

The Beast has many connotations.

It connotes fear of the unknown, an imaginary God-like figure one must appease; these have further connotations on how little English boys (who are themselves representation of English men and society) see life as they have been taught.

📚 Buy on Amazon

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The whole novella is an allegory. Each animal represents a public figure and movement, and every incident has layered connotations.

📚 Buy on Amazon

Examples of Connotation Outside Literature

The world of cinema has used connotations as widely and richly.

Inception by Christopher Nolan

The top connotes time, the point where reality, dream, and illusion converge.

Joker by Todd Philips

The clown imagery has ripples of connotation. Sticking to the movie, it connotes the masking of reality, hiding the truth with external techniques.

Moonlight by Barry Jenkins

The water in the film connotes transformation, rebirth, purification, and absolution.

How to Use Connotation in Your Writing

The word choice and the sentences put in context decide the word's connotation. They may have the same meaning, but the difference is how the readers perceive it and their association with it.

To reach the meaning a writer strives to use connotation, they must know their audience. Who are they?

Their language, culture, daily life, sensibilities, etc., will help curate the writing the audience will relate to.

Know Your Audience

A person who is not familiar with literary language will not understand the connotation of the word "dark" or "blue" in the abstract sense. However, they will understand the denotation, that is, the explicit meaning.

They will also relate to a colloquial connotation that relates to their lives. In such cases, choosing popularly used words can help employ connotation in writing.

Repeated Association

Connotation in literature offers a vast space for experiments. If you’re pursuing a novel connotation of your own, try repeating the connotation with the idea you’re going for frequently in your writing.

For example, if you want to use the word "frosted" for a mean, old person, you might have to use it frequently in the text for the readers to grasp the connotation fully, that is, his demeanor is cold and his soul icy.

Become a Reader

Most people learn about writing through voracious reading.

Observe the language of a book. If you understand the explicit meaning, go back and check how the writer has creatively written the scene without using denotation.

Reading helps learn new words. New words help form new associations.

For example, knowing the difference between childish and childlike, sophisticated and pretentious, will open new doors for writing deeply.

Research

Research on literary devices and how to use them in sentences.

You don’t have to stick to the book definition of connotation or be a literary critic.

Start by browsing articles on the internet, or refer to the dictionary to find word synonyms.

As you read literature, you'll discover connotative words, denotation examples, and positive and negative connotations.

Set the Mood

If you want to create a specific mood or character, use several aspects of writing to create it.

For example, if you're going to portray a character who spends their money recklessly, you might call them extravagant, spendthrift, instead of someone who lives in the moment and doesn’t worry about the future; someone irresponsible rather than carpe diem.

It shows the character in a negative light. Corresponding this character's qualities with the consequences they face due to their extravagance will convey a childish, rash character to the reader.

Is Connotation in Writing Important?

The connotation in writing helps create depth and diversity. It pushes the readers out of their comfort zone, helps them widen their imagination, and generally improves the quality of your writing.

It shows off your skills and brings something fresh to the field.

Recap

  • Connotation is a feeling or idea that is implied.
  • There is positive connotation and negative connotation, and neutral connotation.
  • Words can connote different meanings to different people; connotation is contextual.
  • Denotation is the literal sense of the words.
  • Connotative words set the tone and mood.
Newsletter

Best Writing Newsletter ✍️

Writing tips and examples, best reads, cool tools, jobs, and friendly encouragement to do your best writing. Sent weekly, on Thursdays.

Join 1,259 newsletter readers! · Let me see it first