Denotation Examples: What They Are and How To Use Them

Do you know what denotation is? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on denotation, including its definition, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What is denotation?

According to Your Dictionary, denotation is the literal definition of a word or dictionary definition of a word. In opposition, connotation is the figurative meaning of a word or the emotion that a word evokes. While words can have negative connotation, neutral connotation, or positive connotation, its denotation remains unchanging. For example, in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester denotatively wears a red A on her clothing. Figuratively, she wears the mark of a loose woman because of little Pearl. Connotation could also be known as the indirect meaning, as are figures of speech. These emotional suggestions of a word are separate from the direct definition of the word.  

The literal meaning of expatriate and the word immigrate have the same denotation, but potentially different connotation. The literal meaning of the word bosom and chest are the same, but they have a different connotation. Aristotle may claim that intellect is the highest form of activity to find clarity, but this is a connotative meaning. As a practical activity, hiking or mountain climinding are the literal highest thing. Shelter’s denotation remains the same, but it has a wide array of positive and negative associations depending on the obvious considerations of the sentence. Try seeing if you can think of some different words and phrases that have one denotation, but several different connotations, or words that are technically synonyms with different connotations. This is a great activity for understanding!

Many different languages also contain words that mean denotation. You may notice that some of these translations of denotation look and sound similar to one another. These are called cognates, which are words and phrases in different languages that likely have the same root or language of origin, causing them to sound the same. The below list of translations of denotation is provided by Word Sense

  •  Hungarian: jelentés‎
  •  Portuguese: denotação‎ (fem.)
  •  Dutch: denotatie‎, betekenis‎
  •  Spanish: denotación‎ (fem.)
  •  Bulgarian: главно значение‎ (neut.)

What are examples of denotation?

The common types of denotation can be used in many different contexts in the English language. Trying to use a word or literary technique in a sentence is one of the best ways to memorize what it is, but you can also try making flashcards or quizzes that test your knowledge. Try using this term of the day in a sentence today! Below are a couple of examples of denotation from Your Dictionary that can help get you started incorporating this tool into your everyday use. 

  •  Aquarius (water bearer) = January 20 – February 18
  •  < is less than
  •  Virgo (virgin) = August 23 – September 22
  •  The boy was pushy. (He was literally pushing people.)
  •  Aries (ram) = March 21 – April 19
  •  > is more than
  •  # is number
  •  Capricorn (sea-goat) = December 22 – January 19
  •  Cancer (crab) = June 21 – July 22
  •  Leo (lion) = July 23 – August 22
  •  = is equals
  •  + is plus
  •  Trevor is a bull. (The bull is named Trevor.)
  •  % is percent
  •  Scorpio (scorpion) = October 23 – November 21
  •  I went to the farmer’s market but it got rained out. (The farmer’s market literally washed away from the rain.)
  •  He was bull-headed. (He literally has a head of a bull.)
  •  $ is dollars
  •  “You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you.” –  Jake Barnes, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  •  The blueberry is blue. (the literal color of the fruit)
  •  The whiteness of the whale in Moby Dick by Herman Melville is amazing. (The whale is literally white.)
  •  Gemini (twins) = May 21 – June 20
  •  “Harry — yer a wizard.” – Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  •  “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” – Atticus, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  •  @ is at
  •  The woman was frugal. (The woman is economical when spending money.)
  •  The dog is a mutt. (The dog is a mix of several breeds.)
  •  Libra (scale) = September 23 – October 22
  •  “When all at once I saw a crowd,/A host, of golden daffodils;/Beside the lake, beneath the trees,/Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” – I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth
  •  Pisces (fish) = February 19 – March 20
  •  Sagittarius (archer) = November 22 – December 21
  •  It was too hard. (The object was too firm.)
  •  Taurus (bull) = April 20 – May 20
  •  She was cold. (She was cold in temperature.)
  •  – is minus

What are other literary techniques and devices?

There are many different literary and grammatical techniques and devices that you might see when you are reading prose or poetry. It is important to recognize these devices because they are always used for some purpose. Knowing these devices can help readers understand the author’s deeper meaning and why they are using such a device. Take a look at the below list of literary devices from Reedsy and see how many you know! Then try researching ones that are unfamiliar to you. 

  •  Simile
  •  Aphorism
  •  Symbolism
  •  Metaphor
  •  Cumulative sentence
  •  Anthropomorphism
  •  Frame story
  •  Synecdoche
  •  Polysyndeton
  •  Personification
  •  Allegory
  •  Tmesis
  •  Euphemism
  •  Repetition
  •  Soliloquy
  •  Malapropism
  •  Flashback
  •  Allusion
  •  Paradox
  •  Exposition
  •  Tragicomedy
  •  Oxymoron
  •  Juxtaposition
  •  Anastrophe
  •  Anachronism
  •  Tone
  •  Hypophora
  •  Satire
  •  Point of view
  •  Anaphora
  •  Dramatic irony
  •  Isocolon
  •  Motif
  •  Foreshadowing
  •  Colloquialism
  •  Imagery
  •  Litotes
  •  Zoomorphism
  •  Onomatopoeia
  •  In Medias Res
  •  Chiasmus
  •  Archetype
  •  Tautology
  •  Irony
  •  Metonymy

Overall, the function of denotation is the literal definition of a word or dictionary definition of a word. In opposition to this, connotation is the figurative meaning or the emotional meaning of a word. 


  1. Literary Devices | Reedsy
  2. Denotation Examples and Meaning | Your Dictionary 
  3. denotation: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense