Essay Using Connotations

If you are preparing for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) Exam, you will need a healthy vocabulary. This chapter will help you to expand your vocabulary by gaining a deeper understanding of the mechanics of language.

This chapter is from the book 

Terms you'll need to understand:

  • Connotation
  • Context
  • Denotation
  • Synonyms
  • Prefix
  • Suffix
  • Root word

Techniques you'll need to master:

  • Building your vocabulary
  • Understanding words according to their usage
  • Understanding words according to their construction
  • Knowing the differences between denotation and connotation

In essence, we live in a communications-centric society. To cope in that society, you must be able to read and understand what you are reading. The beginning of overall reading comprehension lies within adept vocabulary skills—understanding individual words as they appear in context. The Word Knowledge and Paragraph Comprehension sections of the ASVAB assess your ability in vocabulary skills and reading comprehension.

The Word Knowledge module contains 25 questions (the CAT-ASVAB has 16 questions), which you will need to answer in 11 minutes, or 8 minutes on the CAT-ASVAB. To achieve your 70%, you need to answer 18 questions correctly; to achieve 80%, you need to answer 20 questions correctly.

The Word Knowledge portion of the ASVAB tests your knowledge of both common and not-so-common words. This section measures your ability to choose the correct meaning of a word, in context, and choose an appropriate synonym or meaning.

Much of the Word Knowledge module is simply word recognition and knowing the meaning of words. Because vocabulary is an essential part of reading comprehension, you need to get a good handle on this section to prepare you for the Paragraph Comprehension module. In each question on the test, you will see a sentence that contains one underlined word. Your job is to select a word or phrase that has the closest meaning to the underlined word. For example, a Word Knowledge question might look like the following, wherein you must choose a word that means approximately the same as the underlined word:

His behavior was atypical.

  1. usual

  2. abnormal

  3. bizarre

  4. calm

If you are an avid reader, or if you are simply adept at learning and using new words, this section will not be too difficult. However, because we can't all be familiar with all the words of the English language, we have to employ a few tools and methods of discerning what unfamiliar words mean. The following sections teach you about word usage and give you tips for maneuvering through the murky waters of word usage.

Building Your Vocabulary

There is nothing difficult about expanding and improving your word knowledge—it is simply a matter of practice and deliberation. The most important habit you can cultivate, if you haven't already, is to start reading more, especially material that is a little difficult for you. That doesn't mean you have to pick up a college-level physics book or a database programming manual. If you currently read popular fiction, perhaps you can start reading other fiction books in the same genre as those you enjoy, but that have a more advanced writing style. For example, if enjoy adventure novels, you can try some books by Tom Clancy or John Grisham, which contain more difficult, and sometimes technical, words. By doing this, you will encounter words that are new to you, but you can still keep up with the context as presented in an enjoyable story line.

When you come across an unfamiliar word, look it up in the dictionary as soon as possible. That way, you can derive the full meaning of the word. After you look up the word, try to use it a couple of times so you understand not only the meaning and spelling of the word, but how to use it correctly in conversation, too.

If you want to score high on the Word Knowledge portion of the ASVAB, you should develop habits of reading avidly, consulting a dictionary when you need to, playing word games—such as Scrabble—and being aware of other opportunities to improve your language and vocabulary skills through usage.


Throughout this book, you will encounter words with which you may not be familiar. This is an excellent opportunity to use your vocabulary building skills.

How to use Connotation

Connotations are basically present in every sentence that we hear, write, and speak. Therefore, words are essentially chosen based on their connotation. When writing or speaking, a word’s connotation should help set the tone as positive or negative, and should be selected with its implications in mind. The most important thing when choosing words is intention, and they should be selected based on the answer to the question, “what feeling do you want to convey through your words?” For instance, the word “thin” can be expressed in different ways: imagine a friend saying, “WOW, you’re so slender, you look amazing!” versus “oh my God, you’re so skinny, do you ever eat?” The first use of “slender” has a positive connotation, implying that you look great, but the second word “skinny” has a negative connotation, implying that you look sickly.


When to use Connotation

Proper word choice is essential when it comes to speaking and writing. Certain situations may call for words with a positive connotation, i.e. when a manager is praising an employee; while others may be better served with words carrying negative connotation, i.e. when a manager is reprimanding an employee. Connotation sets the tone, and using one word or another can seriously alter a sentence’s meaning or tone. Read the following two sentences:

“The woman slammed the door behind her, threw her bag on the floor and slumped into a kitchen chair, where she poured herself a much-needed glass of wine.”


“The woman closed the door behind her, hung up her bag and perched herself in a kitchen chair, where she poured herself a well-deserved glass of wine.”


The first sentence uses words with negative connotation—slammed, threw, slumped, much-needed; giving the feeling that the woman had a difficult day. The second uses positive and neutral—closed, hung up, perched, much-deserved—giving the feeling that the woman had a long but successful day. As can be seen, choosing words based on their connotation can make for two very different tones. The words you choose to describe the beauty of a paradise should connote positive images (as does the word “beauty here), but those describing the gloom of a slum require should connote negative images (as does the word “gloom”).

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