Denotation and Connotation Exercise

Practice in Using Words With Positive and Negative Connotations

2 woman sitting on a staircase reading a book
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This exercise will help you distinguish between the denotative and connotative meanings of words. In addition to reviewing the glossary entries for denotation and connotation, you may find it helpful to read the introduction to Choosing the Best Words: Denotations and Connotations.


In each of the following sentences, the italicized word has a fairly neutral connotation. For each word in italics, list two synonyms (words with similar denotations): one with a negative connotation and the other with a positive connotation.


Sometimes my thin friend annoys me.

Negative connotation: scrawny

Positive connotation: slim

When you have completed the exercise, compare your answers with the sample responses on page two.

  1. I recognized the familiar smell of my roommate's cooking.
  2. Scrapple is an inexpensive meal.
  3. Kevin's interest in model cars has turned into a hobby.
  4. Uncle Henry lives in a hut deep in the woods.
  5. Phileas Fogg was an adventurous traveler.
  6. We stopped for lunch at a diner in West Virginia.
  7. My parents are committed, conservationists.
  8. My old laptop has finally died.
  9. In a quiet and stealthy way, Bartleby moved into the lawyer's chambers.
  10. The teacher was mildly intimidated by Merdine's assertive behavior.

Sample Responses to the Denotation and Connotation Exercise

  1. I recognized the familiar smell of my roommate's cooking.
    negative connotation: stench
    positive connotation: aroma
  2. Scrapple is an inexpensive meal.
    negative connotation: cheap
    positive connotation: thrifty
  3. Kevin's interest in model cars has turned into a hobby.
    negative connotation: obsession
    positive connotation: avocation
  4. Uncle Henry lives in a hut deep in the woods.
    negative connotation: shack
    positive connotation: cabin
  5. Phileas Fogg was an adventurous traveler.
    negative connotation: foolhardy
    positive connotation: courageous
  6. We stopped for lunch at a diner in West Virginia.
    negative connotation: greasy spoon
    positive connotation: café or bistro
  7. My parents are committed conservationists.
    negative connotation: tree huggers
    positive connotation: environmentalists
  8. My old laptop has finally died.
    negative connotation: decrepit
    positive connotation: venerable
  9. In a quiet and stealthy way, Bartleby moved into the lawyer's chambers.
    negative connotation: sneaky
    positive connotation: cunning
  10. The teacher was mildly intimated by Merdine's assertive behavior.
    negative connotation: bossy
    positive connotation: confident