Denotation means to describe the implied meaning of a word.

For example, saying, “the cat is on the mat” can be understood as implying that the cat is in some way attached to the mat, and that it is not simply sitting on top of it.

The denotation of the expression would be different if you said, “The cat is on a table.”

Or consider an alternative example: “The dog is hungry.” We may understand this to mean that the dog wants to eat food.

Or perhaps we understand it to mean that the dog needs food.

Or maybe we understand it to mean that the dog likes food or even loves food. But none of these meanings would be possible if we were told “The dog is hungry.”

Each bears no relation to what the actual dog feels or wants. Rather, each expresses a meaning about how we should feel about something.

So when we say “The dog is hungry,” we are expressing our own feelings about what this animal wants or needs. The denotation of this sentence would be its denotatum — its actual meaning as a statement about what is actually happening.

Want to know more about denotation? Let’s jump in!


What Is denotation

What Is denotation?

The most basic or specific meaning of a word, in contrast to its figurative or associated meanings.

In linguistics and semiotics, denotation is a translation of a sign to its meaning, precisely to its literal meaning, more or less like dictionaries try to define it. Signs are defined as “the smallest units of meaning”.

Denotation is sometimes distinguished from connotation (which includes associations beyond the literal meaning), abstraction (which reduces complexity to extract essential features), inference (which draws conclusions from the signs), and reference (which focuses on what the sign refers to).



What Is Denotation?

For many, denotation refers to the act of referring to something by a different name. A denotation is a metaphor that doesn’t make sense at first.

But once you know the meaning behind it, it works much better. In this case, the term refers to an idea that people are often too literal about.

In business, this can refer to trying to be “too serious” about things. It’s perfectly fine for you to want your products to be of good quality and have customers who love them, but don’t try to take yourself so seriously that you end up being snobby or arrogant.

You don’t have to pretend like you don’t care about making money with your business.

But don’t go too far in the other direction and pretend like you’re not interested in being successful.


People are sometimes afraid of mentioning something because they think they’ll be perceived as being self-important or arrogant if they talk about it.

For example, when I talk about my consulting business, some people get uncomfortable and start talking in vague terms like “my business.”

They’re not being self-important; they’re just trying not to offend me by saying “my business.”

Examples Of Denotation In A Sentence

Denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word. It is a word’s explicit definition. Denotation often refers to how words are used in a specific context, though it also refers to the literal or primary definition of a word.

Tone can be classified into five main categories:

Friendly: The tone of voice when speaking with an intimate friend, for example, or addressing children. This tone of voice also applies to writing that is informal, such as text messages or emails between close friends. A friendly tone emphasizes commonalities and shared interests between the speaker and listener to make them feel comfortable and at ease.

Authoritative: The tone of voice when speaking with someone who has authority over you, such as your boss or teacher at school. An authoritative tone may also be used in business settings where one employee addresses another or by a customer who wants to get help from a salesperson. 

Neutral: The tone of voice when you do not have an emotional connection with the person you are talking to or writing to, or when you are giving information that does not necessarily have any emotional content, for example describing something like scenery.              

Authoritative Business: The tone of voice used in business settings such as meetings and conferences.

Examples Of Denotation In A Screenplay

If you’re familiar with the techniques used to write a screenplay, you probably know that there is more than one way to tell a story in 140 pages of script. One of the choices you make as a writer is deciding which approach to take based on the genre of your story and what the character’s motivations are.

Understand that there is no right or wrong technique; it’s subjective, and it can vary from project to project, but by learning and understanding the difference between “denotation” and “connotation” you will be able to choose the best method for telling your story.

Denotation refers to the literal description of an object or action in a screenplay. It is as simple as saying, “She walked into the room.” This is direct, clear and concise. It has no emotional value attached to it — it could be a happy moment or a sad one.

Connotation refers to all of the implied meaning behind an object or action. In our example above, we see someone walk into a room with no dramatic effects.

But if we say instead “she walked into the room with her shoulders slumped forward in defeat,” now we have added connotation to our scene via metaphor.

Connotation allows us as writers to convey volumes about what’s happening.

Examples Of Denotation In Film

Even if you aren’t a film buff, I’m sure you’ve noticed that films use a lot of symbolism. It’s not just the obvious things, like the fact that most villains in films wear black clothing or that many protagonists save the world in brown corduroy pants.

It’s also the more subtle symbolism: a door or a window can represent something. A gun is an obvious symbol, but what about its color?

What about the way it’s held? What about the way it sounds? This is called denotation.

Taken to its logical conclusion, you can say that there is no such thing as a “coincidence”. Everything in life has significance and meaning.

Whether someone knows it or not (and even if they don’t know they know it), everything has a symbolic meaning to them.

In this world of symbols, there are many things that have universal connotations, such as red = danger or black = death or white = purity or blue = truth or gold = wealth or green = envy. These symbols are known as emblems.

Some people describe emblems as universal symbols and others describe them as personal symbols. Either way, there are some emblems that almost everyone shares in common, because they relate to basic human emotions and experiences.

First Known Use Of Denotation

The first use of the word “denotation” in human history is in the text of a 1553 book by Richard Taverner called “The Garden of Wysdom”. The original text is written in Latin, but here it is translated into English:

The garden of wysdom; shewing how to plucke and gather knowledge out of the flowers and herbes thereof, by the aydes of the scriptures. Begun by master Richard Taverner preacher of Gods word.

London: Printed by Iohn Cawood dwelling at ye signe of ye George neare S. Margarets Church in ye churchyeard, at ye signe of ye George. 1553.

In this book, Taverner explains that there are two types of knowledge: knowledge derived from reason (and therefore also referred to as scientia) and knowledge derived from revelation (and therefore also referred to as fide).

This second type is further divided into four subtypes: prophecy, divine law, divine mysteries, and revelation proper (revelatio).

The section on revelation proper thus starts with this definition:After faith cometh understanding.

And so it is with sanctifying grace; first it beleevith on Christ with godly fear, In this case, the instructor is providing a denotative explanation of how to complete the task; she describes what must be done in order for someone else to complete it successfully.

History And Etymology For Denotation

Etymology, the study of word origins, can be a fascinating way to learn about the English language. Learning the etymology of words can also help you better understand their meanings and the nuances they carry.

One word with multiple definitions may seem confusing, but knowing its etymology can make all the difference in understanding its true meaning.

Good writers use words with precision, knowing how their meanings have changed over time. Take “denote.” It can mean “to refer to directly” and also “to indicate.”

To denote a person is to refer to that person directly; for example, if someone says, ”

John was one of the men who fought in World War II,” you know that John fought in World War II because his name was used directly. If you say, “John was one of those who fought in World War II,” you’re indicating that John fought in World War II because it wasn’t stated directly.

So the next time you look up a word’s etymology and find that it has more than one definition, don’t despair. The additional definition will simply provide another way to describe something.

After all, isn’t language supposed to be dynamic? The word “dog” denotes an animal we often see on our walks.

What’s The Difference Between Connotation And Denotation ?

Connotation refers to the emotional or subjective associations that a word can bring to mind. It’s the feeling you get when you hear or read a certain word.

Denotation is the literal meaning of a word, or the list of its specific attributes.

Tone and connotation are very closely related terms, but people often misuse them in conversation. Tone has to do with your attitude toward something, whereas connotation is about the ideas that come to mind when you hear a word. For example:

I like this car. This is a positive statement, yet I don’t really care for cars all that much.

The word “like” here has no real denotation — it doesn’t mean I actually like this car. Instead, it’s just a way for me to express my opinion without being too harsh about it.

This car is nice. This statement implies that I like this car (at least better than I did before).

The addition of the word “nice” gives an indication that my opinion of this car has changed from negative to positive because of its connotation, not its denotation. Connotation is the subjective, emotional or cultural meaning of a word.

It describes the feelings associated with a word.

Connotation and denotation are related in that connotation refers to the connoted meaning, and denotation refers to the denoted meaning. The connoted meaning is based on subjective interpretations and the denoted meaning is based on objective descriptions.