I am writing a sentence, and are unsure to choose between denote and indicate:

In old Chinese texts, some numbers are used symbolically rather than scientifically. For example, the expression qian jin often indicates/denote merely a large amount of wealth and not exactly one thousand units of gold.

As a background knowledge, qian literally means thousand and jin means gold.

Google defines denote with "be a sign of; indicate". Is there any difference in this context?


  • 1
    denote versus connote. indicate just means to show. Have you looked up denote? Please do.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 20:37
  • @Lambie merriam-webster.com/dictionary/denote here shows some definitions of denote. I think the first one "to serve as an indication of" is what I will apply in my sentence. But still, "indication" is derived from "indicate". My question is, do they mean or imply anything different for native speakers? I just cannot tell the difference. Maybe they are fully interchangeable here?
    – Cambridge
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 22:38
  • Alternatively you could say "often means merely..." Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 23:54
  • Please see the following link: denotation versus connotation. Indicate is just to show something. To denote something is different. If you denote something, you provide its direct meaning, not its suggested meaning.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 17:31
  • Thank you @Lambie. I guess I have got your point. We use denote to say a direct, straightforward meaning, while use indicate to say a relatively more secondary, suggestive meaning. Now I have a further question. I have searched the difference between "indicate" and "imply" before. It's said that "indicate" is to strongly suggest, "imply" is to hint. So can I say that generally "denote > indicate > imply" by the degree of straightforwardness.
    – Cambridge
    Commented Nov 13, 2022 at 3:23

1 Answer 1


In literature, poetry etc. the word denote refer to the basic meaning of a term whereas connote refers to all other meanings.

For example:

"Look at that pig". denotation= a farm animal "Look at that pig". connation=a person who is not nice in some way such as being dirty or nasty'

So: the expression qian jin often indicates/denote merely a large amount of wealth

indicate there means shows (that a person has) a large amount of wealth Or its literal meaning (denotation) is a large amount of wealth

Please note: This was probably translated as normally we'd say: great wealth and not a large amount of wealth

  • Thanks again for this further explanation. : )
    – Cambridge
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 19:22

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