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Examples of Connotative Words

When you look up a word in the dictionary, you will find its literal, or denotative, meaning. This is the basic definition of the word. However, many words — especially nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs — also have an emotional side. Though not part of the official dictionary definition, the emotions and associations connected to a word are known as its connotative meaning. Depending on how a word has been used over time, it may have a positive, negative or neutral connotation.

The Importance of Connotation

To fully understand a word and use it correctly, you need to know both its denotation (the standard definition) and its connotation (the feelings associated with it).  If you aren’t fully aware of a word’s connotation, you may choose an inappropriate synonym in your writing, which can lead to confusion or even to your reader taking offense.
For example, consider the words “group,” “clique” and “club.” All three have basically the same denotative meaning: a set of more than one person. Each of these words has a different connotative meaning, however. “Group” has a neutral connotation, because it simply describes a number of people. It does not inspire either positive or negative feelings.
“Clique,” on the other hand, also means a group of people, but it carries a negative connotation. This is because “clique” is typically used in circumstances where the group is known for excluding others. This word should be used carefully: If you want to be thought of as a welcoming group, the negative connotation of this word will turn people off!
Likewise, “club” also refers to a group of people, but this word has a more positive connotation because a club is a collection of people that voluntarily come together for a shared passion or purpose.
As you can see, it’s important to understand the connotation as well as the denotation of a word before you use it. Otherwise, you run the risk of picking a word out of a thesaurus that is out of place and doesn’t help get your full idea across.

Connotative Words: Examples and Exercises

To see more example of how words with similar denotations can have positive, neutral or negative connotations, refer to the chart below:

Positive Connotation

Neutral Connotation

Negative Connotation

interested

questioning

nosy

employ

use

exploit

thrifty

saving

stingy

steadfast

tenacious

stubborn

sated

filled

crammed

courageous

confident

conceited

unique

different

peculiar

meticulous

selective

picky

vintage

old

decrepit

elated

happy

manic

Now that you’re more familiar with connotative words see how well you do with these fun exercises:

Connotation Exercise 1

Below are groups of similar words used to describe people. What are the connotations of each word? (Scroll down for the answers.)

  1. Childlike, Youthful, Childish, Young
  2. Disabled, Crippled, Handicapped, Retarded
  3. Relaxed, Laid-back, Lackadaisical, Easygoing
  4. Slim, Skinny, Slender, Thin
  5. Cheap, Frugal, Miserly, Economical
  6. Adolescent, Immature, Juvenile, Innocent
  7. Inquisitive, Interested, Curious, Prying
  8. Confident, Secure, Proud, Egotistical
  9. Lovely, Knockout, Beautiful, Stunning
  10. Talkative, Conversational, Chatty, Jabbering

Connotation Exercise 2

Read the sentences below. Can you identify the words that have a negative connotation? (Scroll down for the answers.)

  1. Bedford is a gritty neighborhood, but the rents are low.
  2. On my flight to Los Angeles, I sat next to this babe. She was absolutely stunning.
  3. Every morning my neighbor takes his mutt to the park. It always barks loudly when leaving the building.
  4. You need to be pushy when you are looking for a job.
  5. Bob is bullheaded sometimes, but he always gets the job done.

Use Context to Get a Sense of the Word

It takes practice to understand both the connotation and denotation of a new word, but it’s well worth the effort to do so. The best way to learn a word’s connotation is to read it in a sentence or two to get a sense of how it is used. You can also compare how synonyms are used to understand which ones are positive, negative or neutral to help you select the best word for your purposes.

Answers for Exercise 1:

  1. “Childish” has a negative connotation implying an adult behaving immaturely. “Youthful” implies lively and energetic, while “childlike” implies a sense of wonder, so both are positive. “Young” is neutral.
  2. “Crippled,” “handicapped,” and “retarded” all have negative connotations and are now considered offensive. This is an example of how connotations can change over time. Because “disabled” is neutral, it’s an acceptable choice.
  3. “Relaxed” is neutral, while “lackadaisical” tends to be negative and implies laziness. “Laid-back” and “easygoing” are positive personality traits.
  4. “Skinny” implies that someone is too thin and therefore has a negative connotation. “Thin” is the most neutral, while “slim” and “slender” are more positive and considered complimentary.
  5. “Cheap,” “frugal” and “miserly” all have the negative connotation of being stingy. “Economical” has a neutral to positive connotation.
  6. “Immature” is most negative, while “juvenile” is slightly negative to neutral. “Adolescent” is neutral. ”Innocent” is positive,implying something unspoiled.
  7. “Inquisitive” and “curious” are neutral, while “interested” puts a positive spin on it. “Prying” has a negative connotation.
  8. “Confident” and “proud” are positive, while “secure” is a neutral description of this trait. “Egotistical” is a negative way of looking at self-confidence as something that borders on self-centeredness.
  9. Although “knockout” can be taken as a compliment, it can also have a negative, sexist connotation. “Lovely,” “beautiful,” and “stunning” have more reliably positive connotations.
  10. “Conversational” has a neutral connotation; “talkative” can fall between neutral and negative, while “jabbering” has the negative connotation of causing annoyance. ”Chatty” has a positive, friendly tone.

Answers for Exercise 2:

  1. Gritty
  2. Babe
  3. Mutt
  4. Pushy
  5. Bullheaded


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