The UVic Writer's Guide


Connotation and Denotation


In literary criticism, a word's denotation is its primary or literal significance, whereas connotation is the range of secondary significance which a word commonly suggests.

For instance, the word "sea" denotes a large body of water, but its connotative meaning includes the sense of overwhelming space, danger, instability; whereas "earth" connotes safety, fertility and stability. Of many potential connotations, the particular ones evoked depend upon the context in which words are used. Specific kinds of language (such as archaisms) also have special connotations, carrying a sense of the context in which those words are usually found.


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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 23, 1995