Connote and Denote

Commonly Confused Words

Mark Gottdiener, The Theming of America (1997).

The verb connote means to suggest, imply, or signify indirectly.

The verb denote means to indicate, serve as a sign of (something), or signify directly.

Examples:

  • "The word train, which denotes transportation, also connotes old-fashioned travel, perhaps the nineteenth century by association, maybe a sort of romanticism of traveling, even mystery, exoticism, and intrigue, as in the Orient Express; or in another vein, slowness, noise, pollution, crowds, and the like."
    (Mark Gottdiener, The Theming of America, 1997)
  • "[I]n English and other languages, the high-front vowel 'ee' often seems to connote small, as in 'teeny-weeny.'"
    (Jack Rosenthal, "From Arf to Zap." The New York Times, June 30, 1985)
  • "Contrary to the popular misuse of the term to denote a computer criminal, a hacker is someone who solves a problem in a clever or little-known way."
    (Adam Pash and Gina Trapani, Lifehacker, 2011)
  • "[T]he Lenovo rep used the term 'rip and flip' to denote how the screen can be removed and reconfigured. I’m not sure whether the term will stick, but that’s basically the near future of portable computing: your screen detaches from the keyboard to be used as a tablet for fun or mobility, and then docks back into the keyboard when you need to do some work."
    (Doug Aamoth, "The Phrase ‘Rip and Flip’ Basically Sums Up the Near Future of Portable Computing." Time, January 7, 2013)

Usage Notes:

  • "A word is said to connote something if it suggests or implies secondary meanings/associations/emotions additional to (or other than) its primary or literal meaning. A word is said to denote something if it indicates, signifies or, simply, means it. . . .

    "To use connote for denote is a common looseness; to use denote for connote is plain wrong."
    (B.A. Phythian, A Concise Dictionary of Confusables. John Wiley & Sons, 1990)
  • "Denote is rarely if ever misused. Connote, however, is becoming rarer by the day in its traditional sense, illustrated here: 'In careful usage, "notoriety" carries a connotation of wichedness, evil, or gravely bad conduct.' James J. Kirkpatrick, 'A Little Refresher Course,' Tulsa World, 25 Nov. 1996, at A8. . . .

    "And connotate. *Connotate is a needless variant of connote."
    (Bryan A. Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • "The confusion lies in these signifying senses, for denote describes the relation between the expression and the thing it conventionally names, whereas connote describes the relation between the word and the images or associations it evokes:
    . . . the term 'leisure,' as here used, does not connote indolence or quiescence
    (Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class)"
    (The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

Practice Exercises
 

(a) "Odd–even pricing (or psychological pricing) means pricing at odd-numbered prices to _____ a bargain and pricing at even-numbered prices to imply quality."
(C.W. Lamb et al., Marketing, 2009)

(b) "Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for the letter X. It's the most versatile letter in the alphabet. A singular X can _____ a kiss, the location of buried treasure, or a mistake in a schoolboy essay."
(Charlie Brooker, "Opportunity Knocked." The Guardian, September 10, 2004)

(c) "I don’t doubt that the name [Redskins] was intended to be complimentary rather than mocking--it was surely supposed to _____ skill, bravery and a warrior spirit. But intentions are irrelevant if a large proportion of the group that it’s 'honoring' consider the name a racial slur."
(Pat Meyers, "Style Conversational Week 1037." The Washington Post, September 5, 2013)

Answers

(a) "Odd–even pricing (or psychological pricing) means pricing at odd-numbered prices to connote a bargain and pricing at even-numbered prices to imply quality."
(C.W. Lamb et al., Marketing, 2009)

(b) "Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for the letter X. It's the most versatile letter in the alphabet. A singular X can denote a kiss, the location of buried treasure, or a mistake in a schoolboy essay."
(Charlie Brooker, "Opportunity Knocked." The Guardian, September 10, 2004)

(c) "I don’t doubt that the name [Redskinswas intended to be complimentary rather than mocking--it was surely supposed to connote skill, bravery and a warrior spirit. But intentions are irrelevant if a large proportion of the group that it’s 'honoring' consider the name a racial slur."
(Pat Meyers, "Style Conversational Week 1037." The Washington Post, September 5, 2013)

Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

See also:

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Connote and Denote." ThoughtCo, Apr. 14, 2017, thoughtco.com/connote-and-denote-1689353. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 14). Connote and Denote. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/connote-and-denote-1689353 Nordquist, Richard. "Connote and Denote." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/connote-and-denote-1689353 (accessed January 24, 2018).