Which Word Wednesday: Connote vs. Denote

By April 10, 2013 language No Comments

Denotes a tasty fruit; connotes the tasty fruit’s shade.

I love it when friends encounter their own word duels and send them my way as potential Which Word Wednesday entries. Today’s match up comes from dear friend Angel who wondered about the difference between connote and denote. Good one!

Although I’m familiar with the pair, I had a hard time remembering the last time I had used either one. It was an all-out hunt to track the differences. First stop: The definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

connote :: verb
(of a word) imply or suggest (an idea or feeling) in addition to the literal or primary meaning / (of a fact) imply as a consequence or condition

denote :: verb
be a sign of; indicate; stand as a name or symbol for

Connote is more of an implication or suggestion, something vague; denote indicates something specific, a symbol for something concrete. A connotation expresses association of one thing to another. A denotation expresses the literal meaning of a word. The NOAD also gives this usage note:

Denote refers to the literal, primary meaning of something; connote refers to other characteristics suggested or implied by that thing. Thus, one might say that the word “mother” denotes “a woman who is a parent” but connotes qualities such as “protection” and “affection.”

Second stop is Dave Dowling’s The Wrong Word Dictionary, which gives these examples1:

His actions connote he is unhappy living there.

We were just taught the symbol for pi denotes the number 3.14159.

Third stop: My WWW verdict. Although I don’t use connote or denote very much, I do use the noun connotation. Maybe that’s because connote sounds funny to my ear. (I have my fair share of word aversions.)

What’s your verdict? Do you use connote or denote? Or are you more partial to their noun counterparts, connotation and denotation? Do you have word aversions? (I know I am not alone in this!) Do share in the comments.


www2013Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

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1 Dave Dowling, The Wrong Word Dictionary (Oak Park, IL: Marion Street Press, 2005), 66.

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