Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Connotation as a noun means that which is implied. As a verb, to connote means to imply or to betoken.

explanatory context

Connotation in philosophy is usually equated with an abstract (dictionary) definition as opposed to the particulars that are denoted by the word. In this sense of the term, ‘rose’ denotes all the existing roses while the connotation (in the dictionary sense) would be the abstract definition a flowering shrub with thorns.


Connotation in literature relates to implied properties of a denoted object. Connotation is thus sometimes referred to as a second-order construct. This means that whereas a symbol might denote an object (as the symbol rose denotes a flower on a thorny stem) the same symbol may connote something further (the connotation of rose may be love).


This idea of connotation as a second-order construct is central to semiology and can be found in structuralism in general.

analytical review

Chandler (2011) writes:

The term 'connotation' is used to refer to the socio-cultural and 'personal' associations (ideological, emotional etc.) of the sign. These are typically related to the interpreter's class, age, gender, ethnicity and so on. Signs are more 'polysemic' - more open to interpretation - in their connotations than their denotations. Denotation is sometimes regarded as a digital code and connotation as an analogue code (Wilden 1987, 224).

As Roland Barthes noted, Saussure's model of the sign focused on denotation at the expense of connotation and it was left to subsequent theorists (notably Barthes himself) to offer an account of this important dimension of meaning (Barthes 1967, 89ff). In 'The Photographic Message' (1961) and 'The Rhetoric of the Image' (1964), Barthes argued that in photography connotation can be (analytically) distinguished from denotation (Barthes 1977, 15-31, 32-51).

associated issues


related areas

See also




Barthes, R., [1964] 1967, Elements of Semiology (trans. Annette Lavers & Colin Smith). London: Jonathan Cape.

Barthes, R., 1977, Image-Music-Text. London: Fontana.

Chandler, D., 2011, Semiotics for Beginners: Syntagmatic analysis, last updated 10 November 2011, available at, accessed 21 January 2013, page not available 14 December 2016.

Wilden, A., 1987, The Rules Are No Game: The Strategy of Communication. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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