What I mean to ask is, I only see single words having connotation. Can I use it to express the feelings that the whole passage invoked inside me?


  • 'This story has negative connotation of depression and anxiety'
  • 'His speech contained negative connotation of unhappiness'

Please elucidate? if not, what word should I use in replacement of connotation?

  • AHDEL gives a broadened meaning of connotation: 2. a. An idea or meaning suggested by or associated with a word or thing: Hollywood holds connotations of romance and glittering success. However, I don't think a slightly broadened sense (to a speech or story) is appropriate. Tony C's two suggestions for more and less overt negative associations respectively are far superior. Nov 11, 2016 at 11:21
  • "Connotation" might be used in reference to a speech, but generally some other term would be used, such as "undertone", "implication", or "subtext".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 11, 2016 at 13:07

3 Answers 3


Each of your examples is actually a different case.

Words and phrases have connotations when they invoke emotions, a story carries emotion in it's meaning while a connotation is not as direct of a way to pass to your audience the emotion.

A story can have a depressing message, subtext, theme, tone, resolution and so forth.

While a speech may contain a connotation in the sense that a specific part of the speech had that connotation in it. I believe that's a little different than what you meant to mean by it.

How about: The tone of the story inflicts a negative emotion upon its readers.

  • specific part of speech? that means group of words right? So is it possible like, one part(group of words) have a connotation?
    – Shad
    Nov 11, 2016 at 12:24
  • I mean the speech, as in the one you reference in your example. Not a part of speech.
    – Shrewd
    Nov 11, 2016 at 15:46

I think 'connotation' is specific to a single word. For a whole passage you could use 'association', 'message', 'undertones'.

'This story has negative associations of depression and anxiety'

'His speech contained undertones of unhappiness'

  • 'This story has negative overtones of depression and anxiety' Is this correct? Also can our assumption be wrong as well, from person to person?
    – Shad
    Nov 11, 2016 at 12:11

This is my take, with no attempt to back it up:

Language refers to things (real or not). This is true of any comprehensible bit of language, whether a single word or a phrase. And it is true of both spoken and written language.

The relations between a given bit of language and what it refers to (referents) are sometimes divided into these categories:

  • Denotation: the set of direct, or general referents. This is sometimes called the (basic) meaning of the words.

  • Connotation: meanings that expand on the denotations, by including feelings, associations with given contexts, and the like.

The distinction is relative. Depending on the scope of attention, the boundary between the two can shift.

Examples of denotation and connotation for the word house:

  • The word house denotes (among other things) a particular kind of building or construction, not so much in terms of appearance as in terms of function.

  • The word house, in its use with that denotation, typically has connotations that involve feelings of shelter, family, etc.

  • The word house can denote a governmental (typically legislative) body, such as the US House of Representatives or the UK House of Commons.

  • The word house, in it use with that denotation, can have connotations that involve feelings of cooperation, deliberation, stuffiness, bureaucracy, formality, etc.

These are single-word examples. Like house, the multiple-word House of Representatives is also a name, so it is easy to see that the same descriptions apply. Similarly, any noun phrase.

But even a non-noun phrase or a sentence, such as She liked me on Facebook or You can't win them all, can have associated feelings and contextually specific connotations.

The connotations of a given bit of language refer to all of its possible meanings. And "meaning" is taken widely here: it refers to all possible subjective effects. That includes effects in the minds and feelings of listeners and readers, and it includes effects in the mind and feelings of the speaker or writer.

Connotation is about larger, subjective meaning. The thing that is referenced in connotation is not just the thing denoted (physical, real, or not). It is that denoted thing plus all of the subjective and psychological effects that referring to it (i.e., using the given bit of language) entails.

Connotation is about the thing as not just something separate from the people referring to it (thing in itself). It is about the thing as being, or as including as part of itself, a set of social relations and psychological states or effects.

(Just one opinion.)

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