Denotation and connotation

From my Creative Arts Today handbook (page 124):

  • denotation describes what can be seen and its literal interpretation
  • connotation describes the possible meanings that are suggested by the literal elements

I think that these are very useful concepts to start from in order to analyse an image. As an integration to these definitions I have found also useful as an integration an article published online by the California State University at:

(Accessed on 20/02/17)

‘Connotation is the emotional and imaginative association surrounding a word. Denotation is the strict dictionary meaning of a word.’

‘Connotation represents the various social overtones, cultural implications, or emotional
meanings associated with a sign’

‘Because of usage over time, words that denote approximately the same thing may acquire additional meanings, or connotations, that are either positive (meliorative ) or negative (pejorative ).’

‘The connotative meaning of a word is based on implication, or shared emotional association with a word. Greasy is a completely innocent word: Some things, like car engines, need to be greasy. But greasy contains negative associations for most people, whether they are talking about food or about people. Often there are many words that denote approximately the same thing, but their connotations are very different. Innocent and genuine both denote an absence of corruption, but the connotations of
the two words are different: innocent is often associated with a lack of experience, whereas genuine is not. Connotations are important in poetry because poets use them to further develop or complicate a poem’s meaning.’

‘Since everyone reacts emotionally to certain words, writers often deliberately select words that they think will influence your reactions and appeal to your emotions.’


‘Language meaning is continually shifting, is always contextual, and is influenced by historical, cultural, and economic factors’

‘Denotative language is factual; connotative carries emotional overtones A recipe is denotative; an advertisement connotative’



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