What Is Figurative Language? Definition and Examples (2022)

What Is Figurative Language? Definition and Examples (1)

Have you ever felt so hungry you could “eat a horse”? Complained that “it’s raining cats and dogs” out there? Or wisely observed that “all that glitters is not gold”? Then you’ve already used figurative language without knowing or noticing it.

Figures of speech pop up everywhere in literature, poetry books, pop culture, marketing materials and even in our everyday speech. (“Pop up”—that’s figurative language!) But what is figurative language exactly? How do you recognize it? And what are the most common types you can use?

In short, the definition of figurative language is using a word or phrase beyond its literal definition to achieve a more complex meaning or to strengthen its descriptive effect.

Let’s take a closer look at this creative, non-literal use of language that colors everything that we say, read and write.

What is figurative language?

Figurative language uses figures of speech (such as similes, metaphors and clichés) to suggest new pictures or images, or to create stronger effects. It is particularly useful in getting a specific message or feeling across. For instance, let’s say I’m stuck in the desert with a friend because our car broke down. Rather than saying: “It’s hot outside, isn’t it?”, I’d probably say: “It’s a million degrees outside, what are we going to do?!” Of course, it’s not literally a million degrees outside, but by using figurative language I have better expressed the dread and urgency of the situation we are in.

Figurative language has a fundamental impact on readers. By creating new connections between concepts, images or objects that have little to no original link, readers discover new insights and see a more vivid or imaginative picture in their heads. Figurative language is also useful in explaining an abstract concept by comparing it to something else that readers can better relate to. It can transform the seemingly ordinary into something significant.

This is why authors of all genres employ figures of speech so abundantly. In literature and poetry, writers often use them to pinpoint an exact feeling or mood they would otherwise fail to express with more conventional wording. Politicians and debaters use figurative language to argue and persuade. Novelists use it to draw readers into the world they’ve created. It’s all good.

10 common types of figurative language

Similes

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things of different kinds, and that is often introduced by using a connecting word such as like or as. Here are some examples of similes:

  • She was as busy as a bee.

  • The three-piece suit fit him like a glove.

  • The zombie’s hands were cold as ice.

Metaphors

A metaphor is the same as a simile, but without the connecting word like or as. In a metaphor, one element directly replaces the other one. Some examples of metaphors include:

  • She was a busy bee.

  • His eyes were a deep ocean.

  • The zombie’s hands were ice.

Cliché

A cliché is a phrase, expression, or idea that has become so overused that it has lost its original meaning or effect. Clichés can sometimes be seen as irritating and annoying because of their predictability. Here are some classic examples of clichés:

Hyperbole

Remember a few paragraphs ago when I was stuck in the desert and it was “a million degrees outside?” That’s hyperbolic. Hyperboles are intentional and obvious exaggerations in order to emphasize or evoke strong feelings. They aren’t meant to be taken literally, like these hyperbole examples:

  • Her smile was a mile wide.

    (Video) "What is Figurative Language?": A Literary Guide for English Students and Teachers

  • The student’s backpack weighed a ton.

  • Tommy the zombie was nervous: His dad was going to kill him when he got home.

Idiom

An idiom is a group of words that, when used in a certain order, have brand new, unique meaning that has nothing to do with the definition of the words taken individually. Idioms are generally used to reveal a universal truth. While something doesn’t literally cost you “an arm and a leg”, the meaning behind the idiom immediately makes sense—because what ‘costs’ more than your own limbs? Here are some examples of useful idioms:

  • The project was a piece of cake.

  • He shrugged. “Better late than never.

  • The expensive meal cost the zombie an arm and a leg.

Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is my favorite type of figurative language, and not only because it's so fun to say. Onomatopoeia has a simple definition: It’s the formation of a word by imitating the sound the thing it refers to makes or evokes. You can find them in most nursery rhymes.

  • The cow goes Moo.

  • Ding dong. Someone was at the door.

  • Rwwarrrr said the zombie.

Personification

Personification is when human characteristics or qualities are attributed to inanimate objects, animals, or abstract concepts. Some examples of personification:

  • The wind howled in the night.

  • The camera loves her.

  • The chair groaned when the zombie sat down.

    (Video) Figurative Language Vocabulary, Purpose, and Examples

Oxymoron

An oxymoron associates two seemingly self-contradicting terms to illustrate a point or reveal a paradox. Taken independently, bitter and sweet mean opposite things; however, their association (bittersweet) create a distinct, highly evocative meaning. Here are some other examples of oxymorons:

  • The silence was deafening.

  • I was busy doing nothing.

  • That zombie was part of the walking dead.

Euphemism

A euphemism is when a polite or mild word or expression is used in place of something more unpleasant, distributing, or taboo. In this regard, it functions as the opposite of hyperbole. The most common example of a euphemism is saying someone ‘passed away’ rather than ‘died’. Here are some others:

Allusion

An allusion is a device that makes the reader think of another person, place, event, or thing. Allusions can be both explicit or implied in the narrative. Some of the most common sources of allusions come from the Bible and Greek mythology.

  • She picked up the trash like a Good Samaritan.

  • He was a regular Einstein.

  • The zombie couldn’t stop eating human brains; they were his Achilles’ heel.

Famous examples of figurative language from literature

Example 1: “Parting is such sweet sorrow”—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

If you want to find examples of figurative language, look no further than Shakespeare. Can you guess what literary device he’s using in this famous quote from Romeo and Juliet? If you guessed oxymoron, you’re correct! The words sweet and sorrow evoke opposite ideas of happiness and pain. However, when Shakespeare combines them, it shows how the lovers are sad at having to leave one another, but also excited and joyful at the prospect of anticipating their next reunion.

(Video) Figurative Language/Definition and examples/Elementary level/English

Example 2: “Hope is a thing with feathers”—Emily Dickinson, “Hope is a thing with feathers”

In this famous poem, Emily Dickinson uses an extended metaphor to articulate a profound human emotion. She describes the abstract concept of hope to the reader by comparing it to something very tangible and visceral: a bird with feathers that perches on branches. As readers, we can better understand the complex once it’s compared to something known.

Example 3: “Beep, beep!”—The Road Runner, Looney Tunes cartoons

Though maybe not quite literary, let’s end on a fun example. Poor Wile E. Coyote knows and fears the “beep beep” or “meep meep” onomatopoeia of his archenemy the Road Runner in the Looney Tunes cartoon series. The “beep beep” is reminiscent of a car horn and signals to the coyote that danger is around the corner. Cartoons and comics traditionally use onomatopoeia to illustrate sounds to readers, whether it’s a loud Ka-Pow! after Superman lands a good punch, or the Klang! of an anvil over Tom Cat’s head. Either way … we feel it.

Using figurative language in your writing

Figurative language makes speech fun. It allows us to go beyond the literal and offers us a range of tools to express, describe, and emote. It’s used in everything from nursery rhymes—with a moo moo here—to Shakespearean soliloquies, to excuses for not going into work (after all, your head is killing you). Understanding the different types of figurative language and when to use them is important, but in the end it’s all about what you want to say. Go ahead. The world is your oyster … Pardon the cliché.

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What Is Figurative Language? Definition and Examples (3)

Marika Hirsch, Knowledge Base Writer at Wix

American expat living in Ireland. Loves creative writing and carbs. Will ask to pet your dog.

FAQs

What is the definition of figurative language and examples? ›

For example, the literal meaning of it stinks is “it smells bad.” The figurative meaning of it stinks is “it's terrible.” Figurative language uses figures of speech, which are expressions like metaphors, similes, idioms, and personification, among many others.

What is figurative language answer? ›

Figurative language refers to the use of words in a way that deviates from the conventional order and meaning in order to convey a complicated meaning, colorful writing, clarity, or evocative comparison. It uses an ordinary sentence to refer to something without directly stating it.

What is figurative language example sentence? ›

Figurative Language: Understanding the Concept

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 information.

What are the 7 figurative language definitions? ›

Personification, onomatopoeia , Hyperbole, Alliteration, Simily, Idiom, Metaphor.

What is the definition of figurative language in literature? ›

Figurative language makes meaning by asking the reader or listener to understand something by virtue of its relation to some other thing, action, or image. Figurative language can be contrasted with literal language, which describes something explicitly rather than by reference to something else.

What are the 5 types of figurative language? ›

While there are 12 common types, the five main branches of the figurative tree include metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and symbolism.

Why is figurative language important? ›

Figurative language compares things in order to give them more detail. We use figurative language to help the reader better understand what we are trying to describe.

How do you say figurative language? ›

How to pronounce FIGURATIVE in British English - YouTube

How do you identify figurative language? ›

identifying figurative language - YouTube

What are 5 examples of hyperbole? ›

Examples of Hyperbole
  • I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse.
  • My feet are killing me.
  • That plane ride took forever.
  • This is the best book ever written.
  • I love you to the moon and back.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • I've told you this 20,000 times.
  • Cry me a river.
30 May 2021

What uses figurative language? ›

Figurative language is the use of descriptive words, phrases and sentences to convey a message that means something without directly saying it.

What are the 10 figure of speech? ›

Some common figures of speech are alliteration, anaphora, antimetabole, antithesis, apostrophe, assonance, hyperbole, irony, metonymy, onomatopoeia, paradox, personification, pun, simile, synecdoche, and understatement.

What are the 8 types of language? ›

What is Figurative Language? [8 Types]
  • Alliteration.
  • Hyperbole.
  • Idiom.
  • Metaphor.
  • Onomatopoeia.
  • Parallelism.
  • Personification.
  • Simile.
25 Sept 2022

Which of the following best describes figurative language? ›

Which of the following definitions best describes figurative language? Speech that goes beyond the literal meaning.

What are examples of figurative language in poetry? ›

Most generally, figurative language refers to language that is not literal: it suggests a comparison to something else, so that one thing is seen in terms of another. For example, the phrase fierce tears (the personification of tears) is figurative, since tears cannot really act in a fierce way, as people can.

Why is figurative language important in poetry? ›

Figurative language also is used to link two ideas with the goal of influencing an audience to see a connection even if one does not actually exist. Writers of prose and poetry use figurative language to elicit emotion, help readers form mental images and draw readers into the work.

How do you explain a simile? ›

A simile (SIM-uh-lee) is a type of figurative language that describes something by comparing it to something else with the words like or as. Even if you don't know the definition like the back of your hand, you've probably seen plenty of similes. For example: I know that definition like the back of my hand.

What is a simple definition of personification? ›

Definition of personification

1 : attribution of personal qualities especially : representation of a thing or abstraction as a person or by the human form. 2 : a divinity or imaginary being representing a thing or abstraction. 3 : embodiment, incarnation.

How does figurative language impact the reader? ›

Figurative language is used to create layers of meaning which the reader accesses through the senses, symbolism, and sound devices. It brings the reader deeper into the theme of the work, without the author having to explicitly lay out the theme for the reader.

What is the importance of figure of speech in reading and writing? ›

Importance of Figure of Speech

It enhances the beauty of the writing. It makes the sentence deeper and leaves the reader with a sense of wonder. It brings life to the words used by the writer. The figure of Speech not only shows the writer's intent but also his purpose in using such language.

Why does the author use figurative language? ›

Why Do Writers Use Figurative Language? Sometimes literal language isn't enough to convey a message or intent, and more vivid imagery is necessary to help readers understand the scope of your narrative. This is where the use of figurative language comes in.

What's another word for figuratively speaking? ›

1 metaphorical, not literal, symbolic. 3 ornate, ornamental, flowery, elaborate, florid, grandiloquent.

Is an adjective figurative language? ›

When writing descriptions, two types of descriptive words – adjectives and adverbs – can be used to make the description more specific. Figurative language is a linguistic tool used to depict something in a manner other than literal.

Which term is used to effectively unify a narrative and pertain to associations beyond literal meaning? ›

Figurative Language Definition

Figurative language (fih-gyur-EH-tiv LANE-gwidge) refers to words, phrases, and sentences that go beyond their literal meaning to add layers of interpretation to the audience's understanding.

What is the opposite of figurative language? ›

Answer and Explanation: The opposite of figurative language is literal language.

What are 5 example of metaphor? ›

Common metaphor examples

Life is a highway. Her eyes were diamonds. He is a shining star. The snow is a white blanket.

What is example of metaphor? ›

noun. "Their cheeks were roses" is a metaphor while "their cheeks were like roses" is a simile.

Which of these is an example of simile? ›

Detailed Solution. The correct answer is "​I wandered lonely as a cloud". Simile means a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid. A simile uses the words "like" or "as" to draw a comparison.

What is an example of a allusion? ›

An allusion is when we hint at something and expect the other person to understand what we are referencing. For example: Chocolate is his Kryptonite. In the this example, the word “kryptonite” alludes to, or hints at, the hero Superman.

What is irony and hyperbole? ›

Hyperbole is a marker of irony that not only directs the hearer's attention to the ironic contrast, but also increases the magnitude of that ironic contrast. Imagine it is raining. The ironic contrast is greater if you say “Oh my gosh, it's the sunniest day of my entire life!” rather than simply “Nice weather …”.

What is simile and metaphor examples? ›

A simile is a comparison between two things that uses the word like or as: Her smile is as bright as sunshine. A metaphor is a direct comparison between two things that does not use like or as: Her smile is sunshine.

What is the difference between a simile and a metaphor? ›

Similes and metaphors are both figures of speech that are used to make a comparison between two things that are not alike. The difference is that similes make the comparison by saying that something is like something else but metaphors make the comparison by saying that something is something else.

What is not figurative language? ›

Literal language means exactly what it says, while figurative language uses similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and personification to describe something often through comparison with something different. See the examples below. Literal Descriptions • Grass looks green. • Sand feels rough.

How many parts of speech is there? ›

There are eight parts of speech in the English language: noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection. The part of speech indicates how the word functions in meaning as well as grammatically within the sentence.

What type of speech is employed? ›

transitive verb

How many types of figure of speech are there in English? ›

In English grammar, there are around fifteen to twenty figures of speech. However, there are a few of them which are used more often than the others.

What is aptitude test in English language teaching? ›

Aptitude Tests

Language aptitude tests assess a person's ability to acquire new language skills. Because of the nature of these tests, they are more general than most other language tests and don't focus on a particular language.

What is learning style in language learning? ›

Basically, there are four types of learning styles: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic and tactile. Each has its own traits that may work for you or may not.

What is language testing in education? ›

Language tests are formal instruments of assessment. They can be used either to measure proficiency without reference to a particular programme of learning or to measure the extent to which learners have achieved the goals of a specific course.

What are 5 examples of hyperbole? ›

Examples of Hyperbole
  • I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse.
  • My feet are killing me.
  • That plane ride took forever.
  • This is the best book ever written.
  • I love you to the moon and back.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • I've told you this 20,000 times.
  • Cry me a river.
30 May 2021

How do you identify figurative language? ›

identifying figurative language - YouTube

What is figurative language Kid definition? ›

Figurative language is a language that is used non-literally to create a special meaning. It often has different meaning or intentions beyond the ways in which the word or phrase is typically used.

What is an example of a personification? ›

Personification examples

Some examples of it are phrases: “The sun smiled down on us.” 'The story jumped off the page.” “The light danced on the surface of the water.”

Which of these is an example of simile? ›

Detailed Solution. The correct answer is "​I wandered lonely as a cloud". Simile means a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid. A simile uses the words "like" or "as" to draw a comparison.

What are the 8 figures of speech? ›

Figure of Speech: Definition and Examples
  • Figure of Speech.
  • Metaphor.
  • Simile.
  • Oxymoron.
  • Hyperbole.
  • Sarcasm.
  • The Cliché
30 May 2019

What are 5 example of metaphor? ›

Common metaphor examples

Life is a highway. Her eyes were diamonds. He is a shining star. The snow is a white blanket.

What is example of metaphor? ›

noun. "Their cheeks were roses" is a metaphor while "their cheeks were like roses" is a simile.

Why is figurative language important? ›

Figurative language compares things in order to give them more detail. We use figurative language to help the reader better understand what we are trying to describe.

How is figurative language used in writing? ›

Ways to Use Figurative Language in Writing
  1. A metaphor compares two things by suggesting that one thing is another: "The United States is a melting pot."
  2. A simile compares two things by saying that one thing is like another: "My love is like a red, red rose."
8 Jan 2020

What is the opposite of figurative language? ›

Answer and Explanation: The opposite of figurative language is literal language.

What is figurative language examples for 5th grade? ›

Examples: The sun smiled at me as it popped up. The rain kissed my cheeks as it fell. Hyperbole is exaggeration.

What is figurative language 6th grade? ›

Figurative language is language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal meaning. When a writer uses literal language, he or she is simply stating the facts as they are. Simile.

What is figurative language examples for kids? ›

Examples of figurative language include: Similes, comparison of two things using the words 'like' or 'as' Metaphors, comparison of two things without using the words 'like' or 'as' Personification, which is giving human qualities to non-human things, and.

Videos

1. Figurative Language
(Progress Learning)
2. Metaphor, Simile, Personification, Hyperbole | Figurative Language Lesson
(Mineola Creative Content)
3. What is Figurative Language: Examples and Types
(Homework Joy)
4. Poetry for Beginners: What is Figurative Language?
(Super Teacher Girl)
5. Figurative language explained
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6. Figurative language | Reading | Khan Academy
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