In an image out of a science fiction movie, a woman interacts with a floating, transparent computer screen. Her bright clothing, pale face, and the floating computer screen are stark against a black background.

Source: “The future will not take away my gaudy accessories,”
B_Zedan, Flickr

Now that you have looked at specific examples of diction, let’s delve more deeply into why authors choose some words over others in their writing. A word’s denotation is its literal definition, the idea the word represents. A word’s denotation is what you will find if you look up the literal meaning of the word in the dictionary or encyclopedia.

A word’s connotation concerns the emotions or associations attached to the word or its implied meaning. When reading, it is important to consider both denotative meaning and connotative meaning and their effects on tone. A simple decision to use one word rather than another can change the entire tone of a reading passage. This is why diction is such a powerful tool!

Writers choose words for the layers of meaning they carry and for the feelings and emotions they evoke. When writers want to grab your attention, they might employ connotation. If they merely want to provide straightforward explanations, they will likely use denotative meanings. Read through these examples of denotation and connotation.

 Denotative MeaningOne Possible Connotative Meaning
Citizen Inhabitant of a city of town Patriot
Patriot seems to suggest a person who is passionate about being an inhabitant of a city or country.
Weak lacking strength Wimpy
Wimpy suggests someone who is cowardly and not simply someone who lacks physical strength.
Car Vehicle Hot rod
A hot rod suggests a sporty and fast car, not simply a vehicle or mode of transportation.

Now that you have seen how denotation and connotation work, give it a try. Drag and drop each denotative word from the list below next to its possible connotative meanings.

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You can learn more about denotation and connotation in Denotation and Connotation in the Related Resources.