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What Is Positive Connotation?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Positive connotation is the idea of a word having an associated or felt meaning that is positive in some way without it necessarily reflecting the literal meaning of the word. The word “jolly” for example, has a very simple meaning — “happy” — so its literal meaning is often considered positive and it tends to have a connotation that is naturally positive as well. Another word can have a positive connotation, even if the word itself is not necessarily meant to be inherently positive. The word “plenty” has a literal meaning of “a good deal of something,” but is often associated with having sufficient wealth or food for comfort, giving it a positive association or connotation.

The term “positive connotation” refers to the kind of emotional or subconscious reaction someone has to a word. Different words can have different connotations and denotations, depending on the word and how it is used in a particular culture. The denotation of a word is its literal meaning, often simply described as the dictionary definition of a word, and is positive or negative only due to its strictest meaning. A word like “eloquent” has a clear denotation — a person who is capable of clear expression — but it can also have a positive connotation as well, that of someone whose speech indicates intelligence.

Denotation refers to the dictionary definition of a word.
Denotation refers to the dictionary definition of a word.

A connotation of any kind, either a positive or negative connotation, typically stems from how a word is used in a particular society. The word “butcher,” for example, simply means someone who separates meat into different cuts for sale or distribution. Usage of the word in association with various acts of manslaughter or crime, however, has given the word a negative connotation that implies it can be someone who savagely attacks another person. A particular word can take on a positive connotation in much the same way, and the word is then typically used to have that secondary meaning as well.

This concept can extend beyond one word, and can be used to describe an entire phrase or common saying. The term “sunny day,” for example, literally only refers to the fact that the sun is not obscured by clouds in the sky. It is often used with a positive connotation to imply that such a day is full of potential for fun or happiness, and the image of a sunny day has become equally associated with opportunities for enjoyment. Once a word takes on a positive connotation, it may, in fact, lose previous meanings and the denotation may change to match the connotation.

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Discussion Comments


I think we all have certain words that mean something positive to us. One person's favorite positive connotation could mean nothing to someone else, but another word entirely could mean the best to them.

My favorite positive word is “paradise.” I absolutely love the ocean, the beach, palm trees, and everything to do with the sea. Paradise and the ocean are often linked, and for me, this connotation is the most positive.

However, my best friend loves the mountains more than anything. She cares nothing for the ocean, but to her, the word “mountainous” equals paradise. So, when she hears words referring to mountains, they have a positive connotation for her, though they do nothing for me.


I see both positive and negative connotations put to use in advertising all the time. Advertisers like to use words that come with clear feelings to get their point across.

Many wedding related ads use the word “bliss.” I have seen this positive word used in ads for jewelry stores selling engagement rings and also in travel ads to entice newlyweds to go to a certain honeymoon destination.

Negative words usually are used in ads campaigning against something. They either encourage people to stop some unhealthy activity or to join an organization that fights against the word with the negative connotation.


@kylee07drg – I know people like your coworker, as well. I think that everyone does this to some degree, but like you say, it isn't good to do it all the time.

I have a friend who just uses one positive connotation word to mean something else. I always know that when she says someone is “healthy,” she means that they are overweight.

She uses the term “healthy” in reference to the fact that they obviously don't have malnutrition and they have plenty of fat stored up to survive on in case of famine. However, many overweight people are not actually healthy, since they are at greater risk for diabetes and heart problems, so she knows she is also being sarcastic.


I know a few bitter people who tend to use words with positive connotations ironically. My coworker has a negative outlook on life, and every time that she wants to express her discontent over something, she says, “Well, isn't that lovely!”

I've also heard her refer to less than desirable circumstances as “just great.” We all can tell from the tone of her voice and her general demeanor that she isn't speaking literally at all.

I've caught myself doing this from time to time. I keep a check on it, though, because I don't want to become the person who always uses positive words to say the opposite of what I mean. People often tend to avoid those with super negative ways of viewing and referring to situations.

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    • Denotation refers to the dictionary definition of a word.
      By: Sebastian Crocker
      Denotation refers to the dictionary definition of a word.