There seems to be some ambiguity between the connotation and definition of a word / word group / phrase.

The dictionary entry seems to be that a definition is more of a primary description of a word whereas connotation seems to be more of an alternative meaning or implication.

Further, despite the dictionary entry, I feel like I hear them used synonymously both on this site and in "real life."

So, long question short, what constitutes a definition and what constitutes a connotation?

  • I spent quite some time searching for duplicates but practically every question on the site uses either the word "connotation" or "definition" so it's a needle in a haystack if a duplicate exists. – Adam Mar 21 '11 at 21:34
  • An excellent example of how connotation and denotation can differ is found in the various words for colors. "Sanguine," "Crimson", and "Ruddy" all describe "red". But sanguine generally describes blood and blood reds, crimson bright parade red (the color of army banners maybe) and ruddy is a brownish-red often associated with flush skin. The denotations are subtly different, but it's the strong connotations that give each colorful word its impact when used in description. – CodexArcanum Mar 22 '11 at 5:33
  • It's arguable that extended metaphorical senses, which tend to be included in dictionaries after a time, should not be included as true denotations. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 8 '16 at 9:52

The dichotomy isn't between connotation and definition, it's between connotation and denotation. The denotation of a word is what it explicitly and directly means, while its connotation is what it implies or is associated with.

  • +1: Exactly what I was looking for - thank you. (I'll most likely accept yours but I'm going to wait a day or so for good measure) – Adam Mar 21 '11 at 21:41
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    +1 I have nothing to add to this, except perhaps that connotation, coming from Latin, means something like "meaning along with [the central meaning of the word]", "co-meaning". – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Mar 21 '11 at 21:45

A definition is a literal thing. It is dry, and factual.

A connotation is subtle, and contextual. The definition of connotation I like best is (unusually) from Wikipedia: "Connotation is a subjective cultural and/or emotional coloration in addition to the explicit or denotative meaning of any specific word or phrase in a language"

The connotation is the emotional and cultural baggage that goes with the word. You can have a word whose literal definition is perfect for what you are trying to say, but whose connotation is extremely unfavorable.

  • 'The connotation is the emotional and cultural baggage that goes with the word.' There is a very strong implication here (which I'd agree with) that the baggage-handlers (hearers) partly determine what 'a word's connotations' are: different connotation sets for different groups of hearers. Connotations do not depend solely upon the word itself (unlike, one would hope, denotations). In fact, I'd go further and claim that connotations differ person-to-person, even over time with the same person. This is why dictionaries don't attempt to list any but the strongest / most general connotations. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 8 '16 at 9:49

Connotation would be an implied meaning or emotional state via context or culture as opposed to a strict dictionary definition or meaning. For example: "Oh, great" can have plenty of different meanings or connotations. Said sarcastically, there is an extreme negative connotation along with the meaning of expressing acknowledgement. Said excitedly, there is an extreme positive connotation along with a very similar meaning.


A more extrinsic view...a dictionary gives only a definition but rarely addresses connotation. In fact, you're lucky if you get the connotation of the definiend from the connotations and implicatures in the definition.

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