Voice & Word Choice: I / You / S/he Combos

A big part of the voice you project in writing (and speaking) relates to the words you choose to express yourself. The way you say something often indicates how you feel about the subject. This exercise in Voice and Word Choice illustrates this concept. Word Choice is one aspect of writing that determines Voice.

The denotative meaning of a word (denotation) is simply the dictionary definition, or the literal definition. The connotative meaning (connotation) is the emotional impact of the word. It is the connotations of words that give voice to writing. In the examples below, each set of three words are essentially synonyms (they have similar denotative meanings), but the connotations of each word conveys a different feeling depending on the perspective of the speaker.

Illustration: Katie Smith sat in my 7th period class all year, yapping at me from the front row. No matter what I said, she had a response, and by the middle of the fourth term I was exasperated. On one of those long, hot days of spring, I finally snapped at her: "You are so mouthy!" Without missing a beat, Katie chirped, "No, I'm not. I'm just expressive!" We were both talking about the same quality (her endless chattering), but I saw it as negative, while she viewed it as positive. Her classmates would probably have seen her in more neutral terms and just called her talkative. Expressive, talkative, and mouthy all share a similar denotative meaning, but their connotations are very different. The connotations allow us to put our own personal "spin" (or voice) into what we say and write.

Instructions: We tend to describe ourselves (I) in the most positive terms. We might describe another person with us (you) in more neutral terms. Someone (s/he) who isn't around might be described in a negative way. These I /You / S/he combos illustrate how connotative words influence voice. Create some of these combinations of your own that illustrate how three essentially synonymous words or phrases can express different voices.

Example: I am expressive. You are talkative. She is mouthy. (I: Positive >>> You: Neutral >>> S/He: Negative)

Here are some good ones from December of 2008. Sometimes the most amusing and interesting ones have shocking differences in word choice that illustrate the different voices of the speakers:

I am unique. You are different. He is a freak.
I care. You worry. She obsesses.
I'm helpful. You are involved. She is meddling.
I am unique-looking. You are presentable. He is ugly.
I am passionate. You are friendly. He is a perv.
I am voluptuous. You are buxom. She is top-heavy.
I am buff. You are in shape. He is on steroids.
I am effervescent. You are bubbly. She is overbearing.
I am charming. You are social. He is smarmy.
I am statuesque. You are tall. She is an Amazon.
I am ironic. You are sarcastic. He is cynical.
I am friendly. You are flirtatious. She is a slut.
I am enthusiastic. You are hyper. He is on crack.
I am special. You are are slow. He is a moron.
I am vertically challenged. You are short. She is microscopic.
I am modest. You are dressed appropriately. She is Amish.
I am talkative. You are loud. He is annoying.
I am outgoing. You are friendly. She is a flirt.
I am different. You are weird. She is a freak.
I am trying my best. You are struggling. He sucks.
I am intelligent. You are quick-witted. He is a nerd.
I am cautious. You are careful. She's terrified.
I am at peace with my thoughts. You're shy. He's a mute.
I am sociable. You are flirtatious. She is a whore.
I am hilarious. You are amusing. He is an idiot.
I am courageous. You are brave. He takes stupid risks.
I share information. You tell stories. She is a gossip queen.
I am strict. You are mean. She is a witch.
I have a healthy appetite. You eat a lot. He's a horse.
I am well off. You are rich. He is spoiled.
I am slender. You are skinny. She is anorexic.
I take my time. You lollygag. He is slow.
I am mature. You are elderly. She is ancient.
I am feeling blue. You are sad. He is a crybaby.
I am smart. You are capable. He is a cheater.
I am sexy. You are immodest. She is a tramp.
I am husky. You are big-boned. He is fat.