Understanding Words By Their Relationships

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  • 0:01 Connotation and Denotation
  • 2:33 Connotations of Synonyms
  • 3:50 Analogy
  • 5:00 Types of Analogies
  • 7:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Many words in the English language have multiple meanings. To really understand a word, we have to understand the relationship between particular words. In this lesson, we will examine this through connotations, denotations, synonyms, and analogies.

Connotation and Denotation

When two people are in a relationship, the way they interact together can bring out different qualities in each of them. One person might be more talkative or more nervous, while the other person might be quieter or more giggly. Just like relationships between people, words can be altered based on their relationship to the words they are linked to in a phrase or sentence. In order to better understand these words, we need to use the relationship between particular words. We're specifically going to discuss this in regards to connotations, denotations, synonyms, and analogies.

Connotation and denotation are two ways of explaining what words mean. Connotation is the emotional association or secondary meaning of a word. Words naturally carry positive and negative associations. For example, a possible connotation of the word 'home' is 'a place of warmth and comfort,' and it has a positive association.

Denotation is the direct meaning of a word, and it is often what you would find in the dictionary. If we were to look up the word 'home' in the dictionary, we would see that it is described as 'a residence or dwelling.' Notice how that description of the word has no positive or negative emotions tied to it, while the connotation of the same word suggests that it is a 'positive,' 'welcoming,' 'friendly place.'

The way that the word 'home' is used in a phrase or sentence can point to its connotation or denotation. Therefore, recognizing the relationship between the words in that phrase or sentence is the key to understanding which of the word's meanings is being suggested in that instance.

A word's connotation represents social or cultural implications, or emotional meanings that someone associates with that word. For instance, 'Hollywood' connotes such things as 'glamour,' 'fame,' and 'fortune.' But 'Hollywood' denotes an area of Los Angeles, known as the center of the American film industry.

If focusing on this word's denotation, we could say, 'I hate how much traffic there is in Hollywood.' The relationship between the words 'hate,' 'traffic,' and 'Hollywood' point to the use of Hollywood's denotation or direct definition. 'She was enchanted by the bright lights and big dreams of Hollywood.' Here, we can see the relationship between the words 'enchanted,' 'lights,' and 'dreams' all point to Hollywood's glitzy connotation.

Connotations of Synonyms

Let's look at some synonyms, or words that have the same or very similar meanings, to better understand the importance of connotation and the relationship between words used to connote a feeling or idea.

  • Thin
  • Skinny

These two words have a similar definition, which can be used to refer to a person's body. But 'thin' tends to have a positive connotation when describing a person, suggesting he or she is 'lean' or 'fit,' while 'skinny 'isn't always seen as a compliment. In Western cultures, it can be used as a compliment, but it can also be used to suggest that someone is too thin. In some countries, like India, women are often seen as healthier and prettier if they are not as thin. So in that country, 'skinny' would often have a negative connotation.

Again, it all depends on how the words are used in relation to the other words in a sentence. The word 'thin' can be used to describe other things, such as 'I couldn't sleep because the walls were paper-thin.' Because of the relationship between the words 'paper' and 'thin,' and the fact that they are describing walls, 'thin' now has a negative connotation. Everyone reacts emotionally to certain words, so writers often carefully choose words and craft sentences in order to get an emotional response out of you.


An analogy is a comparison of two things that are similar in some way. An analogy requires us to identify similar relationships between dissimilar objects. Word analogies can be written like this: 'Under is to over as fast is to slow.'

The words 'under' and 'over' are related to each other because they are opposites, just like the words 'fast' and slow.'

The other way word analogies can be written is like this: 'Under : Over :: Fast : Slow'

This may seem confusing, but the colon means 'is to' and the double colon means 'as.' When you see a word analogy written using the colon method, it helps to write 'is to' above the colon and 'as' above the double colon so that it is easier to understand. When word analogies are on exams, one of the four words is often left out so that you have to fill in the blank to show you understand the relationship between the words. If this analogy didn't have the word 'slow' at the end, you could probably fill in the blank correctly because you understand the relationship between 'under' and 'over' is that they are opposites, or antonyms.

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