Figurative Language

Last Updated: May 20, 2024

Figurative Language

We want to make our poems to be understood. We use literary jargon and figurative language to make this happen. There are a lot of ways to use figurative language and the most common way is in poetry. When you want your writing to pop, use figurative language.

What is Figurative Language?

Figurative language is a literary device that authors use to create vivid imagery, express complex ideas, and convey emotions in a more powerful and imaginative manner. It goes beyond the literal meaning of words to achieve a more compelling, deeper level of understanding or to add beauty or interest to the writing. Figurative language includes various forms, such as metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and idioms, among others.

Types of Figurative Language with Examples

Types of Figurative Language

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  1. Simile: A comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as”.
    • Example: “Life is like a box of chocolates.”
  2. Metaphor: A direct comparison between two unlike things, stating one thing is another.
    • Example: “The world is a stage.”
  3. Personification: Giving human qualities to animals, objects, or ideas.
    • Example: “The wind whispered through the trees.”
  4. Hyperbole: An exaggerated statement not meant to be taken literally.
    • Example: “I’ve told you a million times.”
  5. Understatement: A figure of speech that makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is.
    • Example: “It’s just a scratch,” for a large wound.
  6. Alliteration: The repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words close to each other.
    • Example: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
  7. Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.
    • Example: “I rose and told him of my woe.”
  8. Onomatopoeia: A word that imitates the sound it represents.
    • Example: “The bees buzzed.”
  9. Idiom: A phrase or expression that has a figurative meaning different from its literal meaning.
    • Example: “Break a leg.”
  10. Oxymoron: A figure of speech that combines two opposite or contradictory terms.
    • Example: “Deafening silence.”
  11. Paradox: A statement that seems contradictory but actually reveals a truth.
    • Example: “I am nobody.”
  12. Irony: The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
    • Example: “Great! Another traffic jam.”
  13. Symbolism: Using symbols to represent ideas or qualities.
    • Example: “A dove represents peace.”
  14. Metonymy: A figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with it.
    • Example: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
  15. Synecdoche: A figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.
    • Example: “All hands on deck.”
  16. Pun: A joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings.
    • Example: “I used to be a baker because I kneaded dough.”
  17. Euphemism: A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.
    • Example: “Passed away” instead of “died.”
  18. Anaphora: The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses.
    • Example: “Every day, every night, in every way, I am getting better.”
  19. Epistrophe: The repetition of a word at the end of successive clauses or sentences.
    • Example: “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
  20. Litotes: A form of understatement that uses negative terms to express a positive statement.
    • Example: “She’s not unkind.”
  21. Apostrophe: Addressing a non-living object, an abstract idea, or an absent person as if it could respond.
    • Example: “O death, where is thy sting?”
  22. Anthropomorphism: Attributing human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects to make them behave and appear like they are humans.
    • Example: In many fables, animals speak and make decisions like humans.
  23. Zoomorphism: Applying animal characteristics to humans, gods, or other objects.
    • Example: “He fought like a lion.”
  24. Chiasmus: A rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order.
    • Example: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
  25. Syllepsis: A figure of speech in which a word is applied to two others in different senses or to two others of which it grammatically suits only one.
    • Example: “He caught a fish and a cold.”
  26. Anadiplosis: The repetition of the last word of a preceding clause at the beginning of the next one.
    • Example: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
  27. Periphrasis: The use of indirect and circumlocutory speech or writing.
    • Example: “The man with the crown” instead of “the king.”
  28. Allegory: A symbolic narrative in which the surface details imply a secondary meaning. Often, the characters represent moral qualities.
    • Example: “Animal Farm” by George Orwell is an allegory for the Russian Revolution.
  29. Cacophony: The use of words with sharp, harsh, hissing, and unmelodious sounds — primarily those of consonants — to achieve desired results.
    • Example: “The clash and clang of steel jarred him awake.”
  30. Euphony: The use of words that are notable for their pleasant and harmonious sound.
    • Example: “The ripple of the stream and the rustling of the leaves.”
  31. Polyptoton: The repetition of words derived from the same root but with different endings.
    • Example: “With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder.”
  32. Asyndeton: The omission or absence of a conjunction between parts of a sentence.
    • Example: “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
  33. Polysyndeton: The use of a conjunction between each word, phrase, or clause, and is thus structurally the opposite of asyndeton.
    • Example: “We have ships and men and money and stores.”
  34. Synesthesia: Describing one kind of sensation in terms of another.
    • Example: “Tasting of Flora and the country green, Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!”
  35. Paralipsis: Stating and drawing attention to something in the very act of pretending to pass it over.
    • Example: “I will not mention the fact that I was late.”
  36. Tautology: The redundant or pointless use of words, which effectively delivers the same meaning.
    • Example: “Free gift” – since gifts are by definition free

Purpose of Figurative Language

1. Creates Stronger Imagery

  • Example: The metaphor “The classroom was a zoo” creates a vivid image of chaos and noise without stating it explicitly.

Figurative language, like similes and metaphors, helps create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind, making descriptions more engaging and memorable.

2. Conveys Emotions Effectively

  • Example: The use of personification in “The wind whispered through the trees” suggests a serene and secretive atmosphere.

It allows writers to express complex emotions and mood in an indirect but powerful way, touching the reader’s emotions deeply.

3. Makes Writing More Persuasive

  • Example: Hyperbole in advertising, such as “This car flies down the highway,” emphasizes the product’s speed and efficiency.

By exaggerating or emphasizing certain qualities, figurative language can make arguments and persuasive texts more compelling.

4. Engages the Reader’s Senses

  • Example: Onomatopoeia in “The bees buzzed,” engages the reader’s hearing, adding a layer of realism to the description.

This sensory engagement helps readers experience the text more fully, as if they were witnessing the story first hand.

5. Enhances Symbolism

  • Example: A metaphor like “Time is a thief” implies that time stealthily takes away our youth, opportunities, or happiness, introducing a symbolic layer to the text.

Figurative language often carries deeper meanings and themes, encouraging readers to think more critically about the text.

6. Facilitates Universal Connections

  • Example: Similes and metaphors can make complex or abstract concepts more relatable by comparing them to common experiences.

This can bridge cultural and personal gaps, making the content more accessible to a wider audience.

7. Adds Humor and Wit

  • Example: Puns and wordplay, such as “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana,” add a layer of humor and cleverness to writing.

Figurative language can lighten the tone of a text, making it more enjoyable and engaging for the reader.

8. Encourages Creative Thinking

  • Example: The metaphor “Life is a highway” encourages readers to consider the many paths and journeys life encompasses.

How to Use Figurative Language in Your Own Writing

Incorporating figurative language into your writing can elevate your prose, engage your readers more deeply, and convey your ideas in more vivid and imaginative ways. Here are practical points on how to effectively use figurative language in your writing:

1. Understand Different Types

  • Similes compare two things using “like” or “as” (e.g., “Her smile was as bright as the sun”).
  • Metaphors make direct comparisons without using “like” or “as” (e.g., “Time is a thief”).
  • Personification gives human characteristics to non-human things (e.g., “The wind howled in the night”).
  • Hyperbole involves exaggerated statement (e.g., “I’ve told you a million times”).
  • Onomatopoeia uses words that imitate sounds (e.g., “The bees buzzed”).
  • Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant words at the beginning of words (e.g., “She sells seashells by the seashore”).
  • Assonance involves the repetition of vowel sounds within words (e.g., “The early bird catches the worm”).
  • Irony conveys a meaning opposite to the literal meaning (e.g., saying “What a pleasant day” during a storm).

2. Use Sparingly

  • Avoid overloading your text with figurative language, as it can become confusing or overwhelming. Use it to enhance your writing, not overshadow it.

3. Match the Tone

  • Ensure the figurative language you choose fits the tone and style of your writing. For example, a serious essay might not be the best place for a playful pun.

4. Enhance Imagery and Emotion

  • Use metaphors, similes, and personification to create vivid imagery and evoke strong emotions in your readers.

5. Be Original

  • Strive for originality in your comparisons. Avoid clichés, as they can make your writing seem unoriginal or lazy.

6. Align with Your Message

  • Your chosen figurative language should reinforce your message or theme, not distract from it. Ensure there’s a clear connection to your main points.

7. Practice Creativity

  • Experiment with different forms of figurative language to discover what best enhances your writing style and voice.

8. Read and Analyze

  • Read widely and analyze how other authors use figurative language effectively. Notice what works and what doesn’t in various contexts.

9. Revise and Refine

  • Review your use of figurative language during the revision process. Sometimes, what seemed like a great metaphor at first might not fit as well upon reflection.

10. Solicit Feedback

  • Get feedback from others on your use of figurative language. What might be clear and vivid to you could be confusing or obscure to someone else.

Function of Figurative Language

Figurative language, an essential component of both written and spoken communication, serves several key functions in enriching text and speech. Here are some significant points outlining its function:

1. Enhances Imagery

  • It creates vivid and powerful imagery in the reader’s mind, making descriptions more engaging and memorable. For example, saying “the fabric of the night” instead of “the darkness of the night” paints a more detailed picture.

2. Expresses Emotions

  • Figurative language can convey complex emotions more effectively than straightforward descriptions, allowing writers to express feelings in a nuanced and impactful way.

3. Adds Depth to Writing

  • By introducing symbolism and deeper meanings, it adds layers of interpretation to text, encouraging readers to think more critically and engage more deeply with the material.

4. Makes Writing More Engaging

  • The use of figurative language can make texts more interesting and enjoyable to read, capturing the reader’s attention and holding it.

5. Facilitates Understanding

  • Through analogies and metaphors, abstract or complex ideas can be explained in simpler, more relatable terms, making the content more accessible to a wider audience.

6. Conveys Tone and Atmosphere

  • It plays a crucial role in setting the tone and atmosphere of a piece, helping to convey the author’s attitude towards the subject or the mood of the scene.

7. Encourages Creativity

  • Both writers and readers benefit from the creative use of language, encouraging a more imaginative approach to thinking and writing.

8. Facilitates Persuasion

  • In rhetoric and advertising, figurative language can be used to persuade more effectively, making arguments and propositions more compelling.

9. Builds Connections

  • It helps build connections between unrelated concepts, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the text.

10. Adds Rhythmic Qualities

  • Through devices like alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia, figurative language adds a musical quality to prose or poetry, enhancing its aesthetic appeal.

2 Examples of Figurative Language in Literature and Poetry

1. Metaphor in Literature: “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

  • Example: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy… but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

In this metaphor from Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” mockingbirds are used to symbolize innocence and purity. The metaphor conveys the theme of the novel – the idea of harming something or someone innocent and the injustices of prejudice and racism. It’s a powerful use of figurative language that encapsulates one of the novel’s central messages.

2. Personification and Simile in Poetry: “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth

  • Example: “I wandered lonely as a cloud / That floats on high o’er vales and hills, / When all at once I saw a crowd, / A host, of golden daffodils; / Beside the lake, beneath the trees, / Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

20+ Figurative Language Examples in Sentence

TypeExampleDescription
SimileHer cheeks are red like a rose.Comparison using “like” or “as”
MetaphorHe is the black sheep of the family.Direct comparison without “like” or “as”
PersonificationThe stars danced playfully in the moonlit sky.Giving human traits to non-human objects
HyperboleI’ve told you a million times!Exaggeration for emphasis
UnderstatementIt’s just a scratch, he said about the deep cut.Minimizing the severity of a situation
IdiomIt cost me an arm and a leg.Non-literal expression with a culturally defined meaning
OnomatopoeiaThe bees buzzed as they flew past.Words that imitate sounds
AlliterationPeter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.Repetition of initial consonant sounds
AssonanceThe light of the fire is a sight.Repetition of vowel sounds within close proximity
ConsonanceHe struck a streak of bad luck.Repetition of consonant sounds within or at the end of words
OxymoronDeafening silence filled the room.Combination of contradictory terms
ParadoxLess is more.Statement that appears contradictory but reveals a truth
SymbolismThe dove is a symbol of peace.Using symbols to signify deeper meanings
IronyA plumber’s house always has leaky faucets.Outcome is opposite of what is expected
MetonymyThe White House issued a statement.Substitution of name with something closely associated
SynecdocheAll hands on deck.A part represents the whole
PunI was struggling to figure out how lightning works, but then it struck me.Play on words with humorous effect
EuphemismHe passed away, instead of “He died.”Softer or less direct expression for harsh or blunt reality
AnaphoraEvery day, every night, in every way, I am getting better.Repetition of words at the start of successive clauses
LitotesHe’s not the brightest man in the world.Understatement by using double negatives

Is Figurative Language Hard?

Figurative language can be challenging for beginners as it involves understanding beyond the literal meanings of words. It requires recognizing and interpreting the deeper, symbolic meanings conveyed, which can be complex but becomes easier with practice and exposure.

What is Figurative Language in One Word?

Symbolism encapsulates the essence of figurative language in one word. It involves using symbols or indirect suggestions to express ideas and emotions, conveying meanings beyond the literal.

What is Figurative vs Language?

Figurative language uses creative, non-literal expressions to convey deeper meanings or add emphasis. In contrast, “language” refers to the system of communication in spoken or written form, encompassing both literal and figurative expressions.

What is Figurative Called?

Figurative language is often referred to as “figurative speech” or “figurative expression.” It encompasses various techniques like metaphors, similes, and personification to convey meaning in a nuanced and impactful way.

Why Do We Use Figurative Language?

We use figurative language to add depth, beauty, and effectiveness to our communication. It helps express complex ideas and emotions more vividly, making texts more engaging and memorable by invoking imagination and eliciting emotional responses.

How Do You Find Figurative Language?

To find figurative language, look for phrases that don’t have their usual, literal meaning. Key indicators include comparisons (like similes and metaphors), exaggerations (hyperbole), and attributing human qualities to non-human things (personification).

Is Repetition Figurative Language?

Repetition itself is not figurative language but a rhetorical device used to emphasize a point or idea. However, it can enhance the effect of figurative language by reinforcing the imagery or emotional impact of the expression

What is the difference between sarcasm and irony?

The difference between sarcasm and irony is, sarcasm is a form of irony that is intended to criticize or hurt someone. Irony is a figurative language, and it gives out the opposite of what is being said.

What are common types of figurative language?

Common types include metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and idioms, each serving to convey ideas in imaginative and impactful ways.

How can figurative language improve storytelling?

Figurative language enriches storytelling by creating vivid imagery, evoking emotions, and helping readers connect with characters and settings on a deeper level.

The beauty of reading stories with figurative language. Figurative language helps with making your speech, essays and even literary genres look pleasing to the person reading them. Using figurative language in daily conversations can also be beneficial. When you plan to write poems, speeches, or even stories, don’t forget to try and use figurative language to make a simple speech or essay into something better.

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