Tag Archive - grammar tips

Do You Connote What I’m Denoting?

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Where do you look to find the meaning of a word? A dictionary, of course. There you will find all the literal meanings of a word, its definition—its denotation.

Denote also means to signify or indicate. The blue wheelchair symbol in a parking lot denotes that spot as a handicapped parking area.

Most words also have a connotation—an association in addition to the literal meaning. A word’s connotation implies something about it—giving a hint or suggesting a connection.

The words house and home both refer to a dwelling. But home conveys (connotes) a sense of warmth, welcoming, and belonging that house does not.

Determined and stubborn denote resoluteness. Stubborn, however, connotes rigidity, even an unyielding defiance that is absent from determined.

Here’s an important distinction to note: words and symbols connote; people imply.

  • The orange cones on the highway connote a construction zone.
  • Martha’s pointing out the cones to Richard implied, “Watch your speed, dear.”

Words have the potential to connote positive or negative emotions, impressions, or characters. It’s worth taking the time to choose the right word to convey just what you want your reader to know or feel.

Incisive, Decisive, Concise, and Precise

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Here are some adjectives that might befuddle you. Often writers interchange the words precise and concise, but there is a fine distinction in meaning.

Concise means stating something succinctly, using as few words as possible yet still conveying the full meaning.

Precise means exact, accurate. It is often used in mathematical or scientific contexts in which definite, fixed statements or measurements are demanded.

While precise and exactly are nearly synonymous, they are not necessarily interchangeable. Exactly is preferred if you’re talking about a measurement, or a time.

  • My alarm is set for exactly 5:37 a.m.

Use precise if you are talking about two or more things and you want to distinguish one from the other or others.

  • I’d like my home décor to match my personality as precisely as possible.

There’s a greater distinction between decisive and incisive. Continue Reading…

Getting Possessive with Gerunds

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Let’s talk about the use of possessive pronouns with a gerund (word ending in ing). It sounds more complicated and technical than it is. If you can answer this question about the following sentence, you can master this.

Is the verb (action/feeling) directed at the person or their action?

  • I resented my mother-in-law being late for dinner.
  • I resented my mother-in-law’s being late for dinner.

Forget my relationship with my mother-in-law. I didn’t resent her. I resented her lateness for the meal I’d prepared. The possessive (mother-in-law’s) precedes the gerund (being) and makes clear it’s my mother-in-law’s action, not her, that I resent. However, if you want to point out that it’s she who is late rather than someone else, the first example would be the one you want to use. You would not use a possessive in that instance. Continue Reading…

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