Denotation and Connotation

The first entry to the toolbox comes here.

Two important notions for the effective use and control of communication, are denotation and connotation. They derive from semiology or semiotics.

You need to know the difference to be able to use them effectively.

Denotation is the basic ingredient of a term or a visual. Of a sign. That on which we all can agree.  Take a picture of a horse, for example. We can all agree, that it has a head, four legs and a tail. 

But the picture of a horse always has a second layer of meaning.

This second layer contains the picture’s connotation, or connotations. Connotations are always multiple. A standing horse may connote steadyness and reliability. A running horse, may connote speed, dynamics and progress. A dead horse may connote meat or fright.

I’ll give you two pictures shot in the same setting at The British Museum in London, UK,  some years ago.

In general terms the denotations in both pictures are approximately the same: people, staircase, marble and open space. But the connotations are quite different in the two pictures. 

In picture below connotations could be described as “curious” or “alert”.

British Museum Staircase Standing


 In this picture connotations could be described as “playfull”, “daring” or “courageous”.

The British Museum Running 

As mentioned, connotations are many more than those indicated above. You have a go at it, yourself! Describe some valid connotations 🙂

I am sure that you get the “picture” of denotations and connotations. Pretty easy to understand, and a powerful pair it is 🙂

Both pictures are shot by the blog author.


Having read so far you really should go for the gestalt factors too. Or maybe you want to have some tips on how to secure impact in you communication?

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