What Is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)

What is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)
'Chinatown'Credit: Paramount Pictures
The word "connotation" is not so easy to define. 

It's not always about the words on the page. Most of the time, it's about the meaning behind them. So for that, we have connotations. But do you know what that word means? And do you know what it has to do with "denotation" as well? 

Today, we'll review literature, poetry, film, and television connotations. Then, we'll dive into denotation and go over the kinds like positive, negative, or neutral. 

So if you want to dig into the word, follow along. 

What is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)
'House of the Dragon' behind the scenes Credit: HBO

What Is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)

As filmmakers, there are so many tools we can use to get our points across. It's not just how things are said but how things are shot. We have you covered if you're looking for a word that can help you put those images or ideas into context. 

"Connotation" Definition 

A connotation is when an emotional association is given to any word or phrase.

They can be positive, negative, or neutral connotations. But they must connect back to how someone feels about the word or phrase. 

Connotation and Denotation 

The fun thing about connotation is that you're putting a spin on a word. It's all in the way it's said and how you use it.

So what's the opposite? If you want the literal meaning of a word, you're talking about denotation. So you can "denote" when something means. Or you can "connote" and color the word or phrase with a judgment, feeling, or emotion. 

What is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)
'Snatch'Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

The Different Kinds of Connotation 

There are three ways to use connotation—positive, negative, and neutral. 

Positive Connotation 

Like the name says, to connote positive means to use a word with a good connection to something else. But what are some words that carry these vibes? 

  • ability
  • able
  • accepted
  • accepting
  • acclaimed
  • accomplish
  • accomplished
  • accomplishment
  • achievement
  • active
  • admirable
  • affirmative
  • affluent
  • agreeable
  • agreed
  • angelic
  • appealing
  • aptitude
  • attractive
  • award
  • awarded
  • aware
  • awareness
  • awesome
  • beaming
  • beautiful
  • believe
  • beneficial
  • bliss
  • blissful
  • bountiful
  • brave
  • bravery
  • brilliant
  • bubbly
  • calm
  • champion
  • charismatic
  • charming
  • cheery
  • clean
  • commemorate
  • commended
  • composed
  • confident
  • congratulate
  • congratulations
  • cool
  • courageous
  • creative
  • creativity
  • cute
  • dapper
  • dazzling
  • delight
  • delightful
  • determined
  • devoted
  • distinguished
  • divine
  • driven
  • dutiful
  • earnest
  • easy
  • easygoing
  • ecstatic
  • effective
  • effective
  • efficient
  • elated
  • electrifying
  • elegant
  • employed
  • enchanting
  • encouraging
  • endorsed
  • energetic
  • enthusiastic
  • essential
  • esteemed
  • ethical
  • excellent
  • exciting
  • exquisite
  • fabulous
  • fair
  • fame
  • familiar
  • famous
  • fantastic
  • favorable
  • favorite
  • fetching
  • flourishing
  • free
  • fresh
  • friendly
  • fun
  • funny
  • generous
  • genius
  • genuine
  • giving
  • glamorous
  • glowing
  • good
  • gorgeous
  • grace
  • graceful
  • great
  • growing
  • handsome
  • happy
  • harmonious
  • healing
  • healthy
  • hearty
  • heavenly
  • help
  • helpful
  • honest
  • honorable
  • honored
  • inquisitive
  • interested
  • interesting
  • jovial
  • joy
  • jubilant
  • keen
  • kind
  • knowing
  • knowledgeable
  • laugh
  • laughter
  • learned
  • legendary
  • light
  • limitless
  • lively
  • lovely
  • lucky
  • luminous
  • lustrous
  • marvelous
  • masterful
  • meaningful
  • merit
  • meticulous
  • miraculous
  • modern
  • motivating
  • moving
  • natural
  • nature
  • needed
  • nice
  • novel
  • now
  • nurturing
  • nutritious
  • one
  • open
  • optimistic
  • options
  • paradise
  • perfect
  • phenomenal
  • pleasant
  • pleasurable
  • plentiful
  • poised
  • polished
  • popular
  • positive
  • possibilities
  • possible
  • potential
  • powerful
  • prepared
  • pretty
  • principled
  • productive
  • progress
  • prominent
  • protected
  • proud
  • quality
  • quick
  • quiet
  • ready
  • reassuring
  • refined
  • refreshing
  • rejoiced
  • reliable
  • remarkable
  • resounding
  • respected
  • restored
  • reward
  • rewarding
  • right
  • robust
  • safe
  • sated
  • satisfactory
  • secure
  • seemly
  • simple
  • skilled
  • skillful
  • smile
  • smiling
  • soulful
  • sparkling
  • special
  • spirited
  • spiritual
  • steadfast
  • stirring
  • stunning
  • stupendous
  • success
  • successful
  • sunny
  • super
  • superb
  • supporting
  • surprising
  • talented
  • terrific
  • thorough
  • thrifty
  • thrilling
  • thriving
  • tranquil
  • transformative
  • transformed
  • trusting
  • truthful
  • unwavering
  • up
  • upbeat
  • uplifting
  • upright
  • upstanding
  • value
  • valued
  • vibrant
  • victorious
  • victory
  • vintage
  • virtuous
  • vital
  • vitality
  • vivacious
  • wealth
  • wealthy
  • welcome
  • well
  • whole
  • wholesome
  • willing
  • win
  • winning
  • won
  • wonderful
  • wondrous
  • worthy
  • wow
  • yes
  • yet
  • yum
  • yummy
  • zeal
  • zealous

What is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)
'House of Gucci'Credit: Paramount Pictures

Neutral Connotation 

This is a word that does not have a positive or negative skew. Think about saying you have a child (neutral) versus saying you have a little hellion (negative) or a little angel (positive). 

Some examples of neutral words are: 

  • active 
  • cat
  • different 
  • dog
  • scent 
  • interested 
  • hesitant
  • senior 
  • thin

What is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)
'Mean Girls'Credit: Sony

Negative Connotation 

Finally, words that connote negatively make people feel wrong about what they describe or how they are used. 

Some examples of negative connotation words are: 

  • abysmal
  • adverse
  • alarming
  • angry
  • annoy
  • anxious
  • apathy
  • appalling
  • atrocious
  • awful
  • bad
  • banal
  • barbed
  • belligerent
  • bemoan
  • beneath
  • boring
  • broken
  • callous
  • can't
  • clumsy
  • coarse
  • cold
  • collapse
  • confused
  • contrary
  • corrosive
  • corrupt
  • crazy
  • creepy
  • criminal
  • cruel
  • cry
  • cutting
  • damage
  • damaging
  • dastardly
  • dead
  • decaying
  • deformed
  • deny
  • deplorable
  • depressed
  • deprived
  • despicable
  • detrimental
  • dirty
  • disease
  • disgusting
  • disheveled
  • dishonest
  • dishonorable
  • dismal
  • distress
  • don't
  • dreadful
  • dreary
  • enraged
  • eroding
  • evil
  • fail
  • faulty
  • fear
  • feeble
  • fight
  • filthy
  • foul
  • frighten
  • frightful
  • gawky
  • ghastly
  • grave
  • greed
  • grim
  • grimace
  • gross
  • grotesque
  • guilty
  • haggard
  • hard
  • harmful
  • hate
  • hideous
  • homely
  • hostile
  • hurt
  • hurtful
  • icky
  • ignorant
  • ignore
  • ill
  • immature
  • imperfect
  • impossible
  • inane
  • inelegant
  • infernal
  • injure
  • injurious
  • insane
  • insidious
  • jealous
  • junky
  • lose
  • lumpy
  • malicious
  • mean
  • menacing
  • messy
  • misshapen
  • missing
  • misunderstood
  • moan
  • moldy
  • monstrous
  • naive
  • nasty
  • naughty
  • negate
  • negative
  • never
  • nobody
  • nondescript
  • nonsense
  • not
  • noxious
  • objectionable
  • odious
  • offensive
  • old
  • oppressive
  • pain
  • pessimistic
  • petty
  • plain
  • poisonous
  • poor
  • prejudice
  • questionable
  • quirky
  • quit
  • reject
  • renege
  • repellant
  • reptilian
  • repugnant
  • repulsive
  • revenge
  • revolting
  • rocky
  • rotten
  • rude
  • ruthless
  • sad
  • savage
  • scare
  • scary
  • scream
  • severe
  • shocking
  • shoddy
  • sick
  • sickening
  • sinister
  • slimy
  • smelly
  • sobbing
  • sorry
  • spiteful
  • sticky
  • stinky
  • stormy
  • stressful
  • stuck
  • stupid
  • substandard
  • suspect
  • suspicious
  • tense
  • terrible
  • terrifying
  • threatening
  • ugly
  • undermine
  • unfair
  • unhappy
  • unjust
  • unlucky
  • unpleasant
  • unsatisfactory
  • unsightly
  • untoward
  • unwanted
  • unwelcome
  • unwholesome
  • unwieldy
  • unwise
  • upset
  • vice
  • vicious
  • vile
  • villainous
  • vindictive
  • wary
  • weary
  • wicked
  • woeful
  • worthless
  • wound
  • yell
  • yucky

What is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)
'Dirty Dancing'Credit: Lionsgate

Connotation Example in Poetry 

Walt Whitman has a poem called I Hear America Singing, in which he uses positive words to describe a country that is new, powerful, and feels brave. It has a blue-collar feel, where the country is safe when carried by strong citizens. 

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,

The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,

The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,

The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,

The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,

The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,

The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,

Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,

The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,

Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Connotation Examples in Literature

One of my favorite books of all time is Animal Farm by George Orwell. It's a book about society, where different classes are portrayed by animals. The corrupt ruling class are pigs. This is the most direct connotation I can think of, it's not subtle but it is perfect. 

Pre-eminent among the pigs were two young boars named Snowball and Napoleon, whom Mr. Jones was breeding up for sale. Napoleon was a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm, not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way. Snowball was a more vivacious pig than Napoleon, quicker in speech and more inventive, but was not considered to have the same depth of character. All the other male pigs on the farm were porkers.

The two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover, came in together, walking very slowly and setting down their vast hairy hoofs with great care lest there should be some small animal concealed in the straw. ...Boxer was an enormous beast, nearly eight hands high, and as strong as any two ordinary horses put together. A white stripe down his nose gave him a somewhat stupid appearance, and in fact, he was not of first-rate intelligence, but he was universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work.

Connotation Examples in Film and TV 

Of course, as filmmakers, we put intention behind everything we do. Whether that's writing a character description with positive or negative words, or layering dialogue, it matters who says what and how things are said. 

Take the very famous Apocalypse Now quote, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like... victory."

It has a positive word, "love," but also a negative connotation, as it's used with the idea that napalm has been dropped. Adding "victory" in there turns it back to positive, but you can see how this juxtaposition and the connotation of words can make a scene like this memorable. 

How about just in titles alone? Think about a show like Pretty Little Liars. The words "pretty" and "little" could infantilize someone, but adding "liars" in there tells you this is not a story about innocent girls but people who are up to no good. Or Mean Girls, a negative connotation about someone, but used comedically to get people laughing. 

Maybe the most famous connotation in all of movie history is in Chinatown. The title is a metaphor for a place you can never change. A dark seedy place that normal people never venture into. So in the final line, when they say, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown," they're talking about an unknown evil they have no control over. 

What is Connotation in Literature and Film? (Definition and Examples)
'Apocalypse Now'Credit: United Artists

 Summing Up "What is Connotation? (Definition and Examples)"

Now that you know everything about connotation and denotation, it's time to get to work. You can add this to your writing or even your direction when telling actors how to behave in a scene. 

There's so much you can do with just words. And knowing these literary terms and devices can take you a long way. 

Let me know what you think in the comments.      

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