• Reference: a unique and real entity that an expression represents.
  • Sense: a facet of a referent that an expression represents.
  • Connotation: the settled emotional content of an expression (especially of a word).
  • Denotation: the meaning of an expression (especially of a word) less its connotation.
  • Intension: the truth conditions of an expression [1].
  • Extension: all entities that fulfill the the intension of an expression [1].


My concepts of extension and of denotation seem the same. For example, it seems to me that the expressions pro-choice and pro-abortion[2] have the same extension[1], the same denotation, but different connotations. So denotation and extension seem the same to me.

Similarly, my concepts of extension, denotation, and reference seem nearly the same, except that my concept of reference includes only expressions that represent unique and real referents.

Also similarly, my concepts of sense and of connotation seem nearly the same, except that my concept of sense includes only expressions that represent unique and real referents. (E.g. Bruce Wayne and Batman are two senses of the same referent.)


  1. Which, if any, of the aforementioned terms did I incorrectly define?
  2. What distinguishes denotation from intension?


[1] Some meaningful expressions may not comprise all components necessary to state anything true or false. (I.e. unsaturated predicates or arguments). Logicians and linguists use variables to represent an absent component, such as in ∃x(Px), where only P has a stated interpretation. In such a case, the intension of the expression ∃x(Px) is that [[∃x(Px)]] is true iff it is true that x exists and that the interpretation of P is true of x.

[2] I acknowledge that, strictly speaking, [[pro-choice]] ≠ [[pro-abortion]]. I disregarded that fact for the sake of the example.

  • You forgot presupposition, entailment, invited inference, conversational implicature, prototype, and literal meaning.
    – jlawler
    Mar 5, 2014 at 18:27
  • @Jlawler Ha. I'm not familiar with invited inference, but I know the other concepts - and they're not part of my conceptual mess - thankfully =)
    – Hal
    Mar 5, 2014 at 18:46
  • 3
    The terms, like all technical terms, have meanings only in the technical context they're defined in. These terms are not defined in the same universes of discourse, so they can't be compared in any simple way. Oh, and only some semantic theories use lambda notation.
    – jlawler
    Mar 5, 2014 at 19:56
  • 4
    Each pair is a binary opposition in a different context. "Sense and reference" is just a translation of Frege's original Sinn und Bedeutung. "Intension and extension" refer to philosophical systems that distinguish individual internal mental percepts from external perceived referents, if any. It's just an instantiation of the supposed mind/body distinction.
    – jlawler
    Mar 5, 2014 at 20:19
  • 2
    Finally, "connotation and denotation" are words lexicographers use; denotations means 'things we tell you it means' and connotations means 'things it may also mean'. Covers a multitude of phenomena.
    – jlawler
    Mar 5, 2014 at 20:21


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