Emotive Language

by Craig Shrives

What Is Emotive Language? (with Examples)

Emotive language is the deliberate choice of words to elicit emotion (usually to influence).

Easy Examples of Emotive Language

Ideas can be expressed in a way that is positive or negative or welcoming or threatening. It all depends on the words selected. Look at this example:
  • The victims were executed in cold blood.
Compare the example above to the one below, which uses non-emotive words.
  • The men were killed.

Real-Life Examples of Emotive Language

Emotive language is designed to tell you the facts while influencing you to adopt the author's opinion. Here are examples of emotive language.
  • Non-emotive version: Another person in the bar was injured by the man's glass.
  • Emotive version: An innocent bystander suffered facial injuries when the thug launched his glass across the bar.

  • Non-emotive version: The government will reduce interest rates.
  • Emotive version: The government will slash interest rates.

  • Non-emotive version: Mr Smith was attacked by Mr Jones for two minutes.
  • Emotive version: For what seemed a lifetime, Mr Smith was subjected to a vicious, cowardly assault by the unemployed, steroid-pumped monster.

Tell It and Judge It

When using emotive language, you are the narrator and the judge at the same time.

Examples of Emotive Language Using Connotation

Emotive language can be created far more subtly than the examples above. It can also be achieved with connotation. For example:
  • He is svelte.
  • (positive spin)
  • He is skinny.
  • (negative spin)
  • You are meticulous.
  • (positive spin)
  • You are nitpicking.
  • (negative spin)
  • You are unassuming.
  • (positive spin)
  • You are plain.
  • (negative spin)

There are two good reasons to care about emotive language:

(Reason 1) Influence others.

When using emotive language, you are the narrator and the judge at the same time. In other words, as an author, there is an opportunity to influence your readers' opinions.
  • Lee begged / asked/ pestered passers-by for help.
  • (Pick your word to suit your needs. Do you want your readers to like Lee?)
Bear in mind that your choice of words can expose your leanings, which is why subtle emotive language is often more effective. Subtle emotive language is best created by using a thesaurus to find synonyms (a term that means the same or very nearly the same as another term). It is often the connotation (i.e., the additional, more nuanced meaning) of a word that provides the appropriate level of emotiveness.
  • The flames barely illuminated Lee's svelte/ willowy/ skinny figure.
  • (Pick your word to suit your needs. Here, svelte and skinny create positive and negative impressions respectively. Willowy creates a generally negative impression, but it doesn't expose the author's contempt for Lee so evidently as skinny.)

(Reason 2) Don't be influenced by others.

Spotting emotive language is also useful from a reader's perspective. If an author describes a corporation as "the toxic giant" or an SUV as "an enormous gas-guzzler," you are unlikely to be reading an unbiased article.

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See Also

What is connotation? What is denotation? Glossary of grammatical terms