Figurative language

From LitWiki

Figurative language uses words and/or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation. Literal language would be used to simply state the facts as they are presented. On the other hand figurative language would use the many parts of speech to convey or to make a particular point. Figurative language is most commonly seen in nonfiction, poetry, prose, and other forms of written work. Writers can use figurative language in comparing two things in such a way that is interesting or by using words that have unusual constructions or sounds. It can also be used to give a new perspective on a word. Using figurative language enables writers to express themselves more clearly by engaging readers with a more explicit approach. Figurative language is especially useful in creative writing, such as poetry and prose, because it is more imaginative that literal language and offers readers a vivid image of what the writer is trying to say.

Types of Figurative Language:


A figure of speech that makes a direct comparison between a thing or person to another.

Example: "You were a gray beret and the whole being at peace." –Pablo Neruda


A figure of speech that provides nature or human-like qualities to something non-human.

Example: The restless tidal waves raged all throughout the night.


A figure of speech that signifies an occurrence of closely connected words all starting with the same letter.

Example: A big bully beats a baby boy.


A figure of speech in which two completely different things are explicitly compared to one another using the words, “like” or “as”.

Example: "He was black as night and as fast as light." –Ernest Hemingway


Pictures or photographs, language that causes people to imagine pictures in their mind, pictures of people or things in a work of art

Examples: the book contains a great deal of sexual imagery, the movie was full of biblical imagery


An obvious and intentional exaggeration, an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.” Language that describes something as better or worse than it really is.

Example: "enough to feed a small army"


The creation of words that imitate natural sounds. The use of words whose sound suggests the sense. The naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it.

Examples: buzz, hiss, hiccup


An expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own, a form of language that is spoken in a particular area and that uses some of its own words, grammar, and pronunciations, a style or form of expression that is characteristic of a particular person, type of art, etc., an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically (as no, it wasn't me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (as ride herd on for “supervise”).

Example: "give way" meaning "retreat"


An action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality, a letter, group of letters, character, or picture that is used instead of a word or group of words, something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance; especially : a visible sign of something invisible (, the lion is a symbol of courage), an arbitrary or conventional sign used in writing or printing relating to a particular field to represent operations, quantities, elements, relations, or qualities, an object or act representing something in the unconscious mind that has been repressed (,phallic symbols), an act, sound, or object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response

Example: the traditional physician's symbol of a staff entwined with a snake


A humorous play on words achieved by manipulating the meaning of a single word or phrase usually executed in one of two ways: by using homophones, which are two words with similar sounds, or homographs, which are two words that are spelled the same but that have different meanings. Often used for comedic effect, but are also used to demonstrate a substantial vocabulary and clever wordplay.

Example: You can tune a guitar, but you can't tuna fish. Unless of course you play bass. (The homophonic pun is "tuna" which sounds like "tune a" and the homographic pun is "bass" which is spelled the same whether it is referring the the fish or the musical instrument.)


An indirect reference to something that is used to convey a specific idea or meaning without offering any additional information, implying a basic understanding of the expression being used.

Example: “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter / I am no prophet” –T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (A biblical allusion that references John the Baptist.)


Something that appears to be contradictory but that is presented as being true.

Example: “I must be cruel only to be kind.” –William Shakespeare, Hamlet

External Links

Figurative Language

Examples of Figurative Language

Different figurative language words and definitions

Figurative Language and Rhetorical Devices

What is figurative language?

Why do writers use figurative language?


Literature and Figurative Language

Work Cited

Corp., LoveToKnow. Your Dictionary The Dictionary We Can Understand. LovetoKnow Corp. 1996-2014.

Nelsoncj. Figurative Language Definitions/Examples/Pictures. Quizlet LLC. 2014.

Schowartz, B. Debora, Dr. Figurative Language and Rhetorical Devices. California Polytechnic State University. 2002.

Martin, Phillip. What is figurative language? All Rights Reserved.

Answer Corporation. Why do writers use figurative language? Answer Corporation. 2014.