What is figurative language? We are going to look at figurative language. We will discuss what it is and how it can be used by looking at some examples. We will also look at the various different types of figurative language which are used in the English language.
Figurative Language Definition
Figurative language is a way of speaking or writing which is in a non-literal sense and is designed to have more of an impact about the subject it is referring to. It is used to add a more vivid or imaginative description of something, someone or a situation.
When using figurative language, the speaker wishes to convey something in a way which is not usual to everyday language. It will have a more rhetorical meaning and may not seem to make sense until the listener understands the concept of figurative language.
When used in a literary sense, figurative language adds new layers to the meaning of the text and can create a more emotional, deep response for the reader.
Types of Figurative Language
There are different types of figurative language. Let’s take a look at them.
A simile is a type of figurative language which is used to compare one thing against another. Similes compare the likeness of two things and often feature the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. An example of this would be ‘her smile was as bright as the sun in the sky.’
A metaphor is a phrase describing something as something it is not in reality. It is used to compare two things symbolically. A metaphor literally describes something as something it is not. A good example of a metaphor would be ‘love is a battlefield.’
An oxymoron is a term which features two words which appear to contradict each other but make sense of the situation overall. A good example of an oxymoron is ‘That woman is pretty ugly.’
A hyperbole is a figure of speech which exaggerates the meaning of a sentence. For example, you could say ‘My granddad is as old as time.’
An idiom is a phrase which bears no literal meaning to the situation it is describing but it implies the facts or story behind it. For example, ‘there is a silver lining in every cloud.’ This does not mean that there are silver linings inside clouds but it is referring to the fact that in a bad situation, good can always be found.
Personification is a type of figurative language. It is used to give an inanimate object or item a sense of being alive. The speaker would talk to the object as if it could understand and was intelligent.
Symbolism is another form of figurative language which is used to express an abstract idea using an item or words.
Alliteration is a type of figurative speech in which the repetition of letters or sounds in used within one sentence.
Onomatopoeia is a form of figurative language in which words which are used to describe a sound actually resemble the sound they are referring to.
Puns are a form of figurative language which create a play on words. They add an extra meaning to a subject and are often seen as a form of joke or to be humorous.
A form of figurative speech is irony. This is when a statement made is directly contradictory to the reality. It is also used to convey a style of sarcasm.
When the above things are used in spoken English they can add an extra flair to a conversation that may otherwise have a less dramatic meaning. The speaker is able to more easily convey the depth, urgency or importance of a matter by using one of these rhetorical devices. It is extremely common for native speakers to use these figures of speech without thinking about it and so they are often heard in conversation.
When used in written text such as fiction, poetry, song or script literary devices such as onomatopoeia or alliteration can add a new layer and make a text more interesting to read. It can also be used to further describe the emotions of characters or situations within a literary piece which enables the reader to create a clearer picture in their mind of what the author is referring to.
Figurative Language Examples
We are now going to take a look at some examples of the different types of figurative language which we have discussed. We will separate the examples into the different categories listed above to make it easier to see which one fits where.
Examples of similes
Here are some examples of similes.
- As strong as an ox.
- As brave as a lion.
- As tall as a skyscraper.
- As hot as hell.
- As hard as nails.
- As light as a feather.
- As tough as old boots.
- As bright as a button.
- As shiny as a penny.
- As common as muck.
- As white as a sheet.
- As tall as a chimney.
- As bold as brass.
- As cool as a cucumber.
- As wet as water.
- As sweet as sugar.
- As pleased as punch.
- As slow as a sloth.
Examples of metaphors
Here are some examples of metaphors.
- She was a shining star.
- A blanket of snow.
- She cried a river of tears.
- My mother-in-law is a dragon.
- The classroom was a zoo.
- She is a night owl.
- Steve is a couch potato.
- My husband is a pig
- She is an air head.
- They were two peas in a pod.
- Life is a rollercoaster.
- Mary is ice cold.
- The lake was a mirror
- My brother is a monster.
- I have seven rug rats.
Examples of oxymoron’s
Here are some examples of oxymoron’s.
- Pretty ugly
- Alone together
- Act naturally
- Definitely maybe
- Clearly confused
- Farewell reception
- Deafening silence
- Jumbo shrimp
- Growing smaller
- Only choice
- Open secret
- Original copy
- Random order
- Sweet sorrow
- Walking dead
- Honest thief
- Quite incredible
- Old fashioned
- Deeply superficial
Examples of hyperboles
Here are some examples of hyperboles.
- She ran faster than the wind.
- This bag weighs a tonne.
- You have enough food to feed the five thousand.
- That boy is as tall as a giraffe.
- My mom is going to kill me.
- She has a mile wide smile.
- This job is impossible.
- I am drowning in my sorrows.
- My holiday is never going to arrive.
- He is my guardian angel.
- The trees are dancing in the wind.
- You have a brain the size of a pea.
- I have told you a million times not to do that.
- I could eat a horse.
- I have a thousand and one things to do.
Examples of idioms
Here are some examples of idioms.
- A picture paints a thousand words-which means that a picture can explain something better than many words could.
- Beauty is in the eye of the beholder-which means that beauty is seen differently according to who is looking.
- Add fuel to the fire = which means to make a situation worse by your action.
- As easy as pie-which means that something is very easy.
- Break the bank-which means to spend more money than you have.
- Get a kick out of it-which means that someone get a thrill from something.
- We are in the same boat-which means that two people are in the same situation.
- A blessing in disguise-which refers to something that seems bad but actually turns out to be beneficial.
- A dime a dozen-which means that something is cheap.
- Beat around the bush-which means to avoid getting straight to the point.
- A chip on the shoulder-which means that someone has a bad attitude.
- Cutting corners-which means to miss out parts of a job.
- Let someone off the hook-which means to let someone get away with a mistake or wrongdoing.
- Go back to the drawing board-which means to go back to making the initial plans.
- Rub someone up the wrong way-which means to annoy someone.
- Cross that bridge when we come to it-which means to face an issue when it arises.
- Wrap your head around something-which means to understand a complex issue.
- Break a leg-which means good luck.
- Sing your heart out-which means to sing well and a lot.
- Hit the hay-which means to go to bed.
- It takes two to tango-which means it takes two people to create a situation.
- Kill two birds with one stone-which means to complete two tasks by only doing one thing.
Examples of personification
Here are some examples of how personification is used in sentences.
- Please work phone, I need to make a call.
- Come on you stupid computer, why won’t you turn on?
- Help me find what I’m looking for dictionary please.
- Where are you whisk? I need to start baking.
- Where are you hiding pencil? I could have sworn I left you on the table.
- Why are you so heavy, suitcase?
- Come on car, why do you keep breaking down.
- Why don’t you last long bar of chocolate.
- Kill two birds with one stone-which means to complete two tasks by only doing one thing.
Examples of symbolism
Here are some examples to show how symbolism can work in a sentence.
- The black death killed many people all those years ago.
- We had to put out a red alert.
- We desperately want to get on the property ladder.
- My son has been in hospital but he has been a lion.
- After out argument, I offered her an olive branch.
- The time after the war was dove-like.
- We had disputed long enough so I raised a white flag.
- He gave her a red rose to show how much he loved her.
- He is so wise that he rivals the owl.
Examples of alliteration
Here are some examples of alliteration being used in a sentence.
- She sells seashells on the seashore.
- The horses hooves hobbled along the hillside.
- Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer ran round the road.
- Eagles end up eating entrails.
- Any aunts are appreciated.
- Fog filled the flora in the forest.
Examples of onomatopoeia
Here are some examples of onomatopoeia being used in sentences.
- The horse neighed when I rode him.
- The sausages sizzled in the frying pan.
- My cough made a loud hacking sound.
- The ghost said boo.
- The wind whistled through the tress.
- The cat purred as he stroked it.
- The birds wings made a fluttering sound.
- The car zoomed past us on the road.
- The ball boinged up against the wall.
- The leaves rustled under my feet.
- The waterfall splashed into the canyon.
- The broken tap dripped all the time.
- In the jungle you can hear the monkeys chatter.
- There was a bang which woke me from my sleep.
- The clock ticked quietly in the corner.
- The sound of the buzzing bees was prominent in the meadow.
- There was a huge metallic clang when I dropped the pan.
- I gasped in horror when I saw the car crash.
- I can hear the moo of the cows through the open window.
- The train chugged along the tracks.
- At night, you can hear the owls hooting outside.
- The frogs croaked loudly on the pond.
- It made a slapping sound as I hit the ground.
- My husband grunted when I told him that we were going to my parents for dinner.
Examples of puns
Here are some examples of what a pun would sound like.
- An egg in the morning is hard to beat.
- A horse is a very stable animal.
- The opinion of an elephant carries a lot of weight.
- A good pun is it’s own reword.
- I bet someone a cut of beef the other day, he wouldn’t match me as he said the steaks were too high.
- Did you hear about the optician who made a spectacle of himself?
- The helpers of Santa are subordinate clauses.
- How do you communicate with a fish? You drop them a line.
- A cat ate some cheese and then he awaited the arrival of a mouse with baited breath.
- They have created a flea from scratch.
- What did the duck say to the barkeep? Put it on my bill.
- Black beauty was a dark horse.
- I fixed my trousers at the library, that was a turn up for the books.
Examples of synechdoche
Another form of figurative language is synechdoche. This is when a whole is represented by a part or vice versa. Here are some examples of how synechdoche works in a sentence.
- At school we learn our ABCs
- My little sister is currently learning her 123s.
- My sister always pays on her plastic when she goes shopping.
- I am getting my first set of wheels once I pass my driving test.
- Ge is going to ask for her hand.
- We need to put some wind in the sails.
- The employers needed a lot of hired hands to complete all the work that needed to be done.
- At the party we cracked open the bubbly.
- the employed the boots out into the field.
- I enjoy tickling the ivories.
- He goes out to earn the bread.
Examples of irony
Here are some examples of how irony is used in a sentence.
- When he stepped out into the thunderstorm, he exclaimed ‘what lovely we are having.’
- The irony of the situation was that the robbers targeted the police station.
- The marriage counsellor ended up getting a divorce from her husband.
- I posted on Facebook about how bad Facebook is.
- He claims to be an animal rights activist but he wears a fur coat.
- The ambulance arrived to the heart attack patient but ended up running him over.
- She was a cobbler yet her children had no shoes.
- I won the lottery on my retirement day.
To sum it up, figurative language is used to add impact and extra description in a non literal sense to what you are saying. There are many ways in which you can do this and there are different types of figurative language for different types of situation.
Figurative Language Infographic