Figurative Language

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Figurative language is when you use a word or phrase that does not have its usual every day, literal meaning. It can be found in literature and poetry where the writing appeals to the senses. Figurative language is using figures of speech to be more effective, convincing and impactful. Whenever you define something by comparing it with something else, you are using figurative language. Figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, allusions go beyond the literal meanings of the words to give the readers new insights. 
There are few different ways to use figurative language, including metaphors, similes, personification and hyperbole. On the other hand, alliterations, imageries, or onomatopoeias are figurative devices that appeal to the senses of the readers. Figurative language can appear in numerous forms with the use of different literary and rhetorical strategies. 


What is Figurative Language

Sometimes figurative language compares two things in such a way that you find the comparison interesting and descriptive. It can do this by giving a word or phrase a specific meaning that may be different than the accurate definition. Writers can use figurative language to make their work more interesting or more dramatic than literal language which merely states facts. Nevertheless of the type of word used, figurative language can make you look at the world differently; it can intensify your senses and help you feel like you are having the same experience as the author.

Figurative language is a term used to describe an author's use of language to extend meaning. This is achieved by deviating from the literal meaning of words or by deviating from the usual arrangement of words. To be precise, figurative language falls into two groups: figures of speech and rhetorical devices; however, usually the term figures of speech and figurative language are used interchangeably.

Types of Figurative Language

Types of Figurative Language


There are many types of figurative language. Some include the use of a detailed type of word or word meaning such as:
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Personification
  • Hyperbole
  • Symbolism
Some sound devices are also observed as figurative language because they give a new perspective on the word such as:
  • Alliteration
  • Onomatopoeia
Following is an explanation of each type of figurative language each with an example:

Metaphor – The metaphor states a fact or attracts a voiced picture by the use of comparison. It compares two things by using one kind of object or using in place of another to recommend the similarity between them. A simile would say you are like something; a metaphor is more positive, it says you are something. When you use a metaphor, you make a statement that doesn’t make sense factually, like “time is a thief.” It only makes sense when the comparisons between the two things become apparent or someone understands the connection between the two words.

Examples include:
    • The world is my oyster.
    • He has a heart of stone.
    • You are what you eat.
    • America is a melting pot.
    • You are a couch potato.
    • You are my sunshine.
    • Time is money.
Simile  –  A simile is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things which uses the words “like” or “as” to compare one object or idea with another to suggest they are alike. A simile relates two things like a metaphor.

Examples include:
    • Busy as a bee.
    • My mouth was as dry as a bone.
    • It was like watching grass grow.
    • She sings like an angel.
    • They fought like cats and dogs.
    • It was as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
    • Brave as a lion.
    • Clean as a whistle.
    • He stood out like a sore thumb.
    • It was as funny as a barrel of monkeys.
Personification –  Personification is a figure of speech in which human features are given to an animal or an object. Personification gives human characteristics or qualities to lifeless non-living objects, animals, or ideas. This can really affect the way the reader imagines things. This type of figurative language is often used in children’s books, rhymes, poetry, and fictional literature. 

Examples include:  
    • The sky was full of dancing stars.
    • Opportunity knocked on the door.
    • My teddy bear gave me a hug.
    • The sun greeted me this morning.
    • The radio stopped singing and stared at me.
    • The vines wove their fingers together to form a braid.
    • The sun played hide and seek with the clouds.
Hyperbole –  An exaggeration that is so dramatic with humor that no one would believe the statement is true are known as Hyperboles. A hyperbole is an outrageous exaggeration that lay emphasis on a point, and can be ridiculous or funny. Hyperboles can be added to fiction to add color and depth to a character.

Examples include: 

    • He was so hungry, he ate that whole cornfield for lunch, stalks and all. 
    • I had to walk 15 miles to school in the snow, uphill.
    • Many hands make light work.
    • You snore louder than a freight train.
    • You could have knocked me over with a feather.
    • She is so dumb, she thinks Taco Bell is a Mexican phone company.
    • It's a slow burg. I spent a couple of weeks there one day.
Symbolism –  is a literary method of extending meaning through the use of generally accepted symbols or something that stands for another thing. These symbols have certain built in beliefs or ideas which a reader brings to a story. This relieves the author of the necessity of explaining them. Such as:

  1. Using an image of the Indian flag to represent patriotism and love for one’s country
  2. Using an apple pie to represent an American lifestyle
  3. Using an apple to represent education

Nevertheless, in a metaphor the author actually draws the comparison whereas in the use of a symbol the author relies on the reader to draw the comparison. Examples of commonly used literary symbols are:

    • cross –  Christianity
    • star of David –  Judaism
    • black/darkness –  evil
    • light –  good
    • flag –  patriotism

Alliteration - Alliteration is a poetic method or literary stylistic device where a series of words, same initial letter, sound, or group of sounds in a sentence have the same first consonant sound, in two or more neighboring words or syllables. Alliteration also includes tongue twisters.

Some good examples are:
    • wide-eyed and wondering while we wait for others to waken
    • A big bully beats a baby boy.
    • The wild winds whisk to the west.
    • Zany zebras zigzagged through the zoo.
and tongue twisters like:
    • Betty bought butter but the butter was bitter, so Betty bought better butter to make the bitter butter better.
    • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
    • She sells seashells by the seashore.
Onomatopoeia – Onomatopoeia is a word that imitates the natural sound of the object or action it refers to. They add a level of fun and reality to writing. When you pronounce the word, it will mimic. When you name an action by imitating the sound associated with it, this is known as onomatopoeia. One example of onomatopoeia would be to say, 
    • “The bees buzz angrily when their hive is disturbed.”
Examples include: 
    • snap crackle pop
    • The burning wood hissed and crackled.
    • The words: beep, boom, bong, clang, zing, click, crunch, gobble, hum, whoosh,  zap, swish, meow, ping, wham, quack, munch, oink, pow, smash and tweet.

Other Figurative Language

Assonance –  A resemblance of sound in words or syllables. When you repeat a vowel sound in a phrase it is assonance. For example, "True, I do like Sue." 

Cliche  –  A cliché is a phrase that is often repeated and has become kind of meaningless. An example of a cliché is the expression "walk a mile in my shoes." 

Idiom –  An idiom is an expression used by a particular group of people with a meaning that is only known through common use. One example of an idiom would be to say, “I’m just waiting for him to kick the bucket.” 

Puns: A word or words, which are formed or sounded alike, but have different meaning; to have more than one possible meaning. Example: An elephant's opinion carries a lot of weight.


Examples of Figurative Language

Understanding the Figurative Language Concept


While using figurative language the writing goes beyond the actual meanings of words so that the reader improves new insights into the objects or subjects in the work. One of the best ways to really understand the concept of figurative language is to see it in action such as with these examples:

    • Alright, the sky misses the sun at night.
    • The poorest man is the richest, and the rich are poor.
    • Hear the mellow wedding bells. - Edgar Allen Poe
    • Out of reach, I pull out with a screech.
    • I move fast like a cheetah on the Serengeti.
    • Her head was spinning from all the new evidence.
    • The toast jumped out of the toaster.
    • I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.
    • The Sea lashed out in anger at the ships, unwilling to tolerate another battle.
    • The Redcoats are coming!
    • I’ve told you a million times to clean your room!