The noun 'denomination' - pronounced with the stress on the fourth syllable di-no-mi-NAY-shun, IPA: /dɪˌnɒmɪˈneɪʃən/ - is nowadays most commonly used in one or other of two ways:
- The word may be used of a group of individuals who share a distinctive interpretation of a particular religious faith (almost always Christianity). Thus we may say that the Methodist Church is one of the largest Protestant denominations in England, or that in Western Europe nearly all the Christian denominations have in recent years suffered a significant decline in membership. In this use 'denomination', 'Church' and 'sect' are often interchangeable, though the word sect, which tends to have a slightly pejorative sense, is most appropriately used of a small religious group which has broken away from a larger group and may have a rather exclusive attitude to membership, by contrast with denominations or Churches, which are more inclusive in their attitude. It would, for example, be wrong to describe the Anglican Church or the Roman Catholic Church as sects, though both are denominations or Churches. AWE has a page outlining the Principal Christian Denominations, along with separate articles on the more important of these.
- The word may also be used of the individual units in systems of value, weight, measurement, and the like, and perhaps most frequently in connection with the units of a currency. Thus banknotes with a large value (e.g., Є200) may be described as notes of high denomination (or high-denomination notes), and banknotes with a small value (e.g., Є5) may be described as notes of low denomination (or low-denomination notes). And it would be possible to say, when coins of a particular value are withdrawn from circulation (as, e.g., halfpenny ( ½ p) coins in England were withdrawn from circulation in December 1984), that coins of this denomination are no longer valid currency (or legal tender).
- In fractions (pedantically vulgar fractions), the numerator is the figure above the line which numerates, or tells you how many there are, of the denominator (the figure below the line which tells you what sort of fraction (the numbers of the unit that exist in the complete integer, or whole number) we are dealing with). For example, there are two halves in a whole. The symbol ½ shows that we are talking of one of these two fractions. ¾ shows that we are talking of a unit of which there are four in a whole number (quarters, shown below the line), and that in this case we are talking of three of those units. ⅔ similarly indicates 'two thirds'.
'Denomination' comes from the Latin denominatio, the noun from the verb denominare, which means: 'to designate', or 'give a name to'.