A weekly grammar tip created by Student Success Center Peer Writing Tutors.
University of Houston-Victoria
3007 N. Ben Wilson
Victoria, TX 77901
|Choosing Your Words Carefully: Connotations Enrich
by Keli Trungale
Words. We can’t write without them. However, when we use them we must realize that they often have more than one meaning. They have a denotation, which is their literal meaning according to the dictionary, and a connotation, which is their implied or suggested meaning within certain cultures.
Take the word “skinny,” for example. Its denotation is “thin.” However, its connotation is somewhat unpleasant: It can have a negative implication in regard to the person or thing it describes.
Ex. Sherry is so skinny.
In the above example the reader, knowing the denotation of “skinny,” can figure out that Sherry is thin. However, the reader may pick up a negative vibe from this word also. “Skinny” seems negative when used in this instance. It leads the reader to think that the writer is insulting Sherry—Sherry looks malnourished, Sherry looks emaciated, Sherry is too thin.
Ex. Sherry is svelte.
This illustration replaces a word that has a negative connotation with a word that has a more positive connotation. The reader could infer that the writer is complimenting Sherry—Sherry is slender, Sherry is in good shape, Sherry is nice looking.
Ex. I bought a cheap car last week.
Here the writer is suggesting, deliberately or not, to his or her audience that he or she bought an inferior vehicle.
Ex. I bought an inexpensive car last week.
The word “cheap” has been replaced with “inexpensive,” which has a less negative connotation attached to it. In this revised sentence, the writer is perhaps trying to say that he or she bought a practical, reasonably priced vehicle.
Here are some other words that tend to carry negative connotations, followed by synonyms that have more positive connotations:
|Recommended Grammar Website of the Week
by Kelli Trungale
Along with our website, we recommend the following site: AskOxford.com. Visitors to this site can browse through lists of spelling tips, grammar tips and confused words. Games such as crossword puzzles and Scrabble are also provided to help visitors brush up on their vocabulary skills.
|Test Your Knowledge
by Kelli Trungale
Test your understanding by choosing the word with the more positive connotation in each of the following sentences.
1. Many business professionals and amateurs alike have (invested/gambled) on Wall Street and have made millions of dollars.
2. Jenny (smirked/smiled) when her son showed her all of the A’s on his report card.
3. Teresa’s peers admire her (unique/weird) sense of fashion.
Now test your understanding by choosing the word(s) with the more negative connotation in each of the following sentences.
4. The (newshounds/journalists) can’t seem to get enough of the Michael Jackson trial.
5. The bingo hall down the street is always full of (spinsters/unmarried women).
6. Harry was (terminated/canned) from his job yesterday.
1. Many business professionals and amateurs alike have invested on Wall Street and have made millions of dollars.
2. Jenny smiled when her son showed her all of the A’s on his report card.
3. Teresa’s peers admire her unique sense of fashion.
4. The newshounds can’t seem to get enough of the Michael Jackson trial.
5. The bingo hall down the street is always full of spinsters.
6. Harry was canned from his job yesterday.
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