Concrete and Abstract Words

concrete word is a word that refers to a specific, tangible item.  Concrete words clearly identify and define. Abstract words are general and not specific.

Our society should primarily be concerned with raising children properly. The word society is not concrete since it is not tangible.

Parents should be primarily concerned with raising children properly. The word parents is concrete since it is tangible.

The need for clear reference is one of the problems with using second person you in writing.  The reference is too general and not concrete.

Unclear: You should know what your children are doing.

This sentence is poorly constructed. I, as the reader, would be confused if I have no children. This sentence isn’t meant to refer to me.  Here is more clear phrasing.

Corrected: Parents with children living at home should know what their children are doing.

Unclear: The air is bad today.

This sentence is very general. What air? What’s bad about it? Here are sentences that more specifically explain:

Corrected: The pollen level in the air is high today.

The air is thick with smoke from the nearby forest fire.

The traffic from the highway down the block causes a foul smell in the air.

Denotation and Connotation

Denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word.  Connotation is what meanings are attached to the word.

House is a place where people live.  Home is a place where people live.  However, the meanings attached to home are very different.

Some words have positive or negative connotations. For example, would you rather be childlike or childish? Childlike has a positive connotation while childish has a negative connotation.

DenotationSmall in proportion to height or length

Positive connotationSlim, Trim, Svelte

Negative connotation: Skinny, Boney, Scrawny

Figurative Comparison

Literal comparisons use concrete and specific analysis based on the dictionary definitions.  Figurative comparisons use references to different experiences to evoke images. Here are three sets of examples, each set using a literal and figurative comparison.

Rose petals look like thin, curved shavings of wood which are dyed red. This is a literal comparison.

Rose petals are as soft as a feather and as sweet as a perfume. This is a figurative comparison.

She was shy.

She was like a shrinking violet.

The road was cracked and full of debris.

The road looked as though a bomb has exploded on it.

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