Denotative Language: Characteristics, Examples

He denotative languageIt is one that is used to say things in an objective way, without any kind of interpretation. Through it, the precise and literal definition of a word is obtained as it could be found in a dictionary. 

In this sense, denotation represents the explicit or referential meaning of a word. This refers to the literal meaning of the words discarding any other associated meaning by use or interpretation over time. 

For example, the name Hollywood in denoting language is an area of ​​Los Angeles, known as the center of the American film industry. Other meanings such as glitz, glamor or celebrities are not taken into account.

Etymologically speaking, the word denote comes from the Latin ‘denotare’ which translates to point or indicate. In turn, the term is composed of the Latin particles ‘de’ (completely) and ‘notare’ (mark).

Also, denotative language is known as denotative meaning. Other ways to name it is cognitive meaning, referential meaning, or conceptual meaning.



The denotative language is intended to communicate clearly. Therefore, it is used to be understood without using any additional literary device. It refers to a fact or data directly (denotes it, names it).

Its opposite is connotative language . Through it, unlike the denotative, the sender’s sensory charges are transmitted (in writing or conversation) that can be shared or rejected by the receiver.


Denotative language is characteristic of everyday speech. Also, it is very commonly found in non-literary texts. From this it follows that its scope is the transmission of information.


In denotative language, importance focuses on the signified rather than the signifier. Thus, the emphasis is on the ideas to be conveyed, rather than exploring words for creative purposes.


Denotative language is objective and concrete. Both the sender of the information and the receiver interpret it in the same way. Therefore, there is no subjectivity in the interpretation of the broadcast content.  


The objective dimension of denotative language coexists with the subjective dimension of its opposite, connotative language.

Both complement each other in their communicative function. On the one hand, the denotative description provides clarity and understanding, while the connotative provides a sensory reference.


Denotative language maintains its validity over the years. In other words, it undergoes few modifications due to the change of era or culture. 

It may be the case that an image or text maintains its denotative meaning, but its connotation changes as the cultures or situations in which it is inserted change.

Examples of denotative language

Of scientific language

“In general terms, it is the science that studies systems through their interaction with electromagnetic radiation. Spectrometry consists of the measurement of the power of these radiations … “

“The development of the Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer theory of the superconductivity of metals has also considerably stimulated the progress of nuclear theory.”

“The Stokes variation in fluorescence implies the emission of a photon that has a greater wavelength than the absorbed radiation. From an analytical point of view, this is the important fluorescence ”.

Of journalistic language

“El Nacional draws 0-0 with Deportivo Cuenca at the beginning of the second half of the match that takes place at the Atahualpa Olympic Stadium in Quito on the 16th date of the first stage in Ecuadorian football” (El Comercio, Ecuador)

“The Secretariat of the Navy-Navy of Mexico, reported through a statement that today the president, Enrique Peña Nieto, led the commemoration of the LXXVI Anniversary of the National Navy Day …” (El Dictamen, Mexico)

“A national march from various parts of Argentina culminated today with thousands of people in Buenos Aires and an upcoming general strike against the adjustment policy is already being announced …” (El Diario, Spain)

Technical language

“The single agent ibrutinib has shown substantial activity in patients with recurrent Waldenström macroglobulinemia, a rare form of B-cell lymphoma.”

“An electrical circuit is a path or line through which an electrical current flows. The path can be closed (joined at both ends), making it a loop. A closed circuit makes the flow of electric current possible ”.

“The nasal cavity is separated from the oral cavity in the lower part by the roof of the mouth or palate. The palate thus forms the lower surface of the nasal cavity. The upper surface is made of soft tissue … “

Manuals or instructions

“Perform a risk assessment to identify the hazards, the risks arising from those hazards, and the control measures you should use. Verify that the electrical equipment is suitable for the job and the way it will be used… ”.

“Check that the electrical equipment is in good condition. Make sure that the equipment is suitable for the electrical supply with which it will be used and that the electrical supply is safe ”.

“It is often beneficial to use a residual current device (RCD) between the power supply and the equipment. Make sure the user of the equipment is trained to use it safely and can keep others safe… ”

Kitchen Recipes

“While the pasta is cooking, sauté the shrimp in butter. The spinach will wilt naturally when combined with the warm pasta. A little lemon zest will add a fresh flavor to the light cream sauce. “

“While the bread is toasting, mix the ricotta, lemon juice and honey until smooth and creamy. Spread the ricotta evenly over each piece of toast, then top with sliced ​​figs… ”.

“Poach the eggs. Layer the lettuce, tomatoes, cooked quinoa, avocado, and pistachios. Add the poached eggs and cover with salt and pepper to taste ”.


  1. California State University. (2006, September 15). Connotation and denotation. Taken from
  2. Definition (2014, April 3,). Definition and etymology of denotation. Bogotá: E-Cultura Group. Taken from
  3. Ramírez, Y. (2014, May 15). Denotative language and connotative language. Taken from
  4. Liong Kim, K. (1996). Caged in Our Own Signs: A Book about Semiotics. Norwood: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
  5. Scott, J. (2013). Creative Writing and Stylistics: Creative and Critical Approaches.
    New York: Macmillan International Higher Education.

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