Figurative Language: Definition, Examples and Different Types

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 is an essential aspect of expressive writing and communication, as it enables authors and speakers to convey their message through creative and imaginative means. Utilizing various literary devices such as similes, metaphors, personification, and onomatopoeia, figurative language allows for the enhancement of meaning and emotional impact in written and spoken communication. By employing these techniques, writers can create vivid imagery and connect with their audience on a deeper, more emotional level.

Figurative 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 on 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 that is not usual in 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.

Similes and metaphors are among the most common forms of figurative language. Similes are comparisons between two seemingly different things using the words “like” or “as,” while metaphors make similar comparisons without the use of these connectors. Personification occurs when human characteristics are attributed to non-human entities, whereas hyperbole refers to intentional exaggeration for emphasis or dramatic effect. Idioms, on the other hand, are commonly used expressions whose meanings differ from their literal definitions, often providing a unique cultural insight.

Types of Figurative Language

There are different types of figurative language. These forms of figurative language serve to engage readers, enrich the language, and breathe life into otherwise mundane expressions. By employing these diverse techniques, writers can evoke a wide range of emotions and reactions from their readers, ultimately enhancing the overall quality and depth of their work.

Let’s take a look at them.

Metaphor

A metaphor is a phrase describing something as something that 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.’

Another example, “Her eyes were shining stars” is a metaphor that compares a person’s eyes to stars, implying the brightness of the eyes.

Simile

A simile is a type of figurative language that 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.’

Another example of a simile would be,  “His face was as red as a tomato,” which compares the redness of someone’s face to the color of a tomato.

Hyperbole

A hyperbole is a figure of speech that exaggerates the meaning of a sentence. For example, you could say ‘My granddad is as old as time.

Another example of hyperbole would be, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.” Obviously, no one could actually eat a horse, but this statement conveys a sense of extreme hunger.

Idiom

An idiom is a phrase that 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.

Idioms are often specific to a language, culture, or region and might not make sense when translated. Some more examples of idioms are “break a leg” (meaning “good luck”) and “barking up the wrong tree” (meaning “pursuing a mistaken or misguided course of action”).

Personification

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. This helps create a more vivid and relatable image for the reader.

For example, “The wind whispered through the trees” paints a picture of a gentle breeze by giving it the human action of whispering.

Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a form of figurative language in which words that are used to describe a sound actually resemble the sound they are referring to. These words can create sensory images and enhance the reader’s experience. Examples of onomatopoeia include “buzz” (to imitate the sound of a bee) and “bang” (to imitate the sound of a loud noise or explosion).

Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a term that features two words that appear to contradict each other but make sense of the situation overall. This rhetorical device is often used for humor or to make a point. Examples include “jumbo shrimp,” “civil war,” and “deafening silence.”

Symbolism

Symbolism is another form of figurative language that is used to express an abstract idea using an item or words. For example, a red rose can symbolize love, while a black cat can symbolize bad luck or evil. Symbolism is often used to add depth and meaning to a story, poem, or other literary work.

Alliteration

Alliteration is a type of figurative speech in which the repetition of letters or sounds is used within one sentence. Examples include “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” and “She sells seashells by the seashore.”

Puns

Puns are a form of figurative language that creates 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. Examples include “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana” and “A horse is a very stable animal.

Irony

A form of figurative speech is irony. This is when a statement made is directly contradictory to reality. It is also used to convey a style of sarcasm. There are several types of irony, including verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony.

Verbal irony occurs when a speaker says something but means the opposite. For example, if it’s raining outside and someone says, “What a lovely day!” that would be verbal irony.

Situational irony occurs when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens. For example, if a fire station burns down, that would be situational irony.

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters do not. For example, if a character in a play is about to make a bad decision, and the audience knows it’s a bad decision but the character doesn’t, that would be dramatic irony.

Synecdoche

A synecdoche is a figure of speech where a part of something represents the whole or the whole represents a part. It is used to emphasize specific aspects of an object or idea. For example, “wheels” may be used to represent a car, or “all hands on deck” implies that the whole crew is needed.

Metonymy

Metonymy is a figure of speech where an attribute or component of something is used to represent the whole thing. This is often used for symbolic or poetic purposes. Examples include referring to the government as “the White House” or the film industry as “Hollywood.”

Allusion

Allusion refers to a figure of speech where the author makes a reference to another work, event, person, or idea, without directly mentioning it. This can help create deeper meaning and connections for the reader. Examples include referencing Shakespeare’s Hamlet with “To be or not to be” or referring to a historical event like the Titanic when describing a disaster.

Assonance

Assonance is a figure of speech that involves the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words. This can help create a musical effect within the text. Examples include “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain” and “The early bird catches the worm.

Litotes

Litotes is a figure of speech that uses understatement or negative expressions to emphasize a point or create a positive effect. This rhetorical device often employs double negatives or contrasting statements. Examples include “It’s not the worst idea in the world” or “I’m not unhappy with the results.”

Paradox

A paradox is a figure of speech that presents a seemingly contradictory statement that, when considered more closely, may reveal a deeper truth. Examples include “Less is more” and “The only constant is change.”

Anaphora

Anaphora is a figure of speech that uses the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of consecutive sentences, clauses, or lines. This repetition can help create emphasis and establish a rhythm in the text. Examples include Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Charles Dickens’ opening lines in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

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: Function and Impact

Emphasis and Understatement

Figurative language functions as a powerful tool that allows writers to emphasize certain ideas and create understatement by using literary devices like idioms, metaphors, or hyperboles. By employing these devices, authors can direct the reader’s attention to significant aspects of the text, thereby reinforcing the overall theme or message. For example, an understatement like “It’s just a scratch,” when referring to a significant wound, can create a sense of irony or sarcasm, while emphasis through exaggeration can convey the intensity of a situation.

Imagery and Symbolism

Another essential function of figurative language is the creation of vivid imagery and symbolism. By using descriptive words and phrases, writers can paint a more detailed picture in the reader’s mind, making the scene or character more memorable. Imagery engages the reader’s senses, drawing them into the story and helping them forge a stronger connection with the text. Symbolism adds depth by attaching additional meanings to particular objects, characters, or situations, which may not be apparent through a literal interpretation.

Descriptive Words and Sensory Connection

Through the use of descriptive words, figurative language allows readers to establish a sensory connection with the text. By appealing to the reader’s sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell, authors can stimulate the reader’s imagination and evoke emotions. This sensory connection makes the text more relatable and engaging, fostering a stronger bond between the reader and the content.

For example, consider the following simile:

  • Her voice was like a soft breeze rustling through the trees.

This figurative comparison elicits the image of a gentle wind, creating a calming atmosphere and establishing an auditory connection with the reader.

Literal Meaning and Literal Language

While figurative language is essential in creating emphasis, imagery, and sensory experiences, it exists alongside literal language in a balance that significantly impacts reader comprehension. Literal meaning provides a straightforward interpretation of words or phrases, whereas figurative language involves deliberate deviation from literal meaning to convey a deeper or more nuanced message. By skillfully navigating between the two, authors ensure that their intended meaning comes across clearly, while still maintaining the richness and subtlety afforded by figurative devices.

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 airhead.
  • 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 Oxymorons

Here are some examples of oxymorons

  • Bittersweet
  • 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 gets 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 avoid getting straight to the point.
  • A chip on the shoulder – which means that someone has a bad attitude.
  • Cutting corners-which means missing out on 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 the 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 the 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 a 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 our 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 horse’s hooves hobbled along the hillside.
  • Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer ran around 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 trees.
  • The cat purred as he stroked it.
  • The bird’s 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 parent’s 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 its own reward.
  • 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 bated 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 Synecdoche

Another form of figurative language is synecdoche. This is when a whole is represented by a part or vice versa. Here are some examples of how synecdoche works in a sentence.

  • At school, we learn our ABCs
  • My little sister is currently learning her 123s.
  • My sister always pays for her plastic when she goes shopping.
  • I am getting my first set of wheels once I pass my driving test.
  • He 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 counselor 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 at 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.

Examples of Figurative Language in Literature and Pop Culture

Figurative language is often used in literature to evoke strong emotions or create vivid imagery. Let’s examine some of the common types of figurative language, with examples from literature and pop culture.

Similes

Similes use the words “like” or “as” to compare two different things. In literature, they can be used to make descriptions more vivid and memorable. For example, in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind,” a simile is used to describe a character’s curiosity: “The very mystery of him excited her curiosity like a door that had neither lock nor key.”

Metaphors

Metaphors are a direct comparison between two different things without using the words “like” or “as.” These can be found in literature as well as in everyday language. For example, the famous line in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet“: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Allusions

Allusions occur when a work references another text, person, place, or event. These references can be used to create connections between different works or to add depth to a story. An example of allusion can be found in the poem “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot, which has several references to classical literature, such as the myth of the Sibyl and the story of Tiresias.

Symbolism

Symbolism uses symbols to represent an idea or quality. This can be found in literature and various forms of pop culture. For example, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” the letter “A” is a symbol representing Hester Prynne’s sin and her status as an adulterer. In pop culture, symbols can be found in movies, music, and artwork.

Figurative Language in Pop Culture

Figurative language is not limited to literature; it can also be found in music, television, movies, and other forms of popular culture. For example, in the song “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G., the word “limelight” is used metaphorically to represent fame, as the line goes: “Now I’m in the limelight ’cause I rhyme tight.”

Another example would be in the movie “The Lion King,” where Mufasa’s spirit appearing in the clouds and telling Simba to “remember who you are” serves as a metaphor for remembering one’s roots and staying true to oneself.

Importance of Figurative Language

Career Development

Figurative language can enhance various aspects of an individual’s career. Professionals in fields such as marketing, advertising, and public relations use figurative language to create more compelling and persuasive content. For example, descriptive words, metaphors, and analogies can help explain complex ideas and engage the target audience. Additionally, understanding figurative language is essential in fields like finance and management; for instance, in the Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A), management may use metaphors to explain complex concepts.

Communication Tool

Figurative language serves as a powerful communication tool, allowing speakers and writers to convey complex ideas, emotions, and experiences more effectively. Examples of figurative language include:

  • Oxymorons, which express contradictory meanings to highlight a concept or idea
  • Hyperbole, which involves exaggeration to emphasize a point or create a comedic effect
  • Cliché, which refers to overused expressions that can help quickly communicate ideas

By using these devices, individuals can enrich their spoken and written communication, making it more engaging and relatable to the audience.

Writing Skills

Developing a strong grasp of figurative language can significantly improve one’s writing skills. It enables authors to create vivid imagery, strengthen arguments, and evoke emotions in readers. For example, using descriptive words, similes, and metaphors can make even mundane descriptions come to life, painting a more vibrant picture for the reader. In turn, this can lead to more engaging content, whether in the form of fiction, non-fiction, or professional writing.

Engaging and Conveying a Message

Figurative language plays a crucial role in helping writers and speakers engage their audience and convey their intended message. By tapping into emotions, figurative language can make complex or abstract concepts more accessible, enabling the audience to better understand and connect with the content. For instance, using analogies and metaphors helps frame challenging ideas in relatable terms, while personification allows readers or listeners to identify with non-human objects.

In summary, figurative language is an essential aspect of communication and writing that can aid in career development, serve as an effective communication tool, improve writing skills, and help engage audiences and convey messages. By mastering various figurative language devices, individuals can elevate their spoken and written communication, making it more dynamic and impactful.

Conclusion

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 situations.

Figurative Language Infographic

Figurative LanguagePin

FAQs on Figurative Language

What is figurative language?

Figurative language is a manner of expression that goes beyond the literal meaning of words to deliver a message or emphasize a point. It is often used in narrative writing to make emotional connections with the reader and to enrich the text with artistic or engaging elements.

What are some common types of figurative language?

There are several types of figurative language, with the most common ones being:

  • Simile: A comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as” (e.g., Her eyes shone like stars).
  • Metaphor: A direct comparison between two, unlike things without using “like” or “as” (e.g., Time is a thief).
  • Personification: Attributing human characteristics to nonhuman entities or objects to make them more relatable (e.g., The chair squealed in pain when the hammer smashed it).
  • Hyperbole: Exaggeration for emphasis or effect (e.g., I could sleep for a year).
  • Idiom: A common expression with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation of its words (e.g., Break a leg).

When should figurative language be used?

Figurative language should be used when the writer wants to create a strong emotional impact, evoke vivid images, or generate a memorable impression. It can be applied in poetry, prose, and various forms of writing, such as essays, novels, and short stories. However, it is crucial not to overuse figurative language, as it may cause confusion and detract from the clarity of the text.

How does figurative language enhance writing?

By deviating from the literal meaning of words, figurative language adds another layer of depth and richness to the writing, making it more engaging and enjoyable for readers. It helps provoke thought, create emotional connections, and bring abstract concepts to life. In addition, figurative language can introduce humor or irony, develop vivid imagery, and establish a distinct style or tone in the text.