The Definition of Figurative Language


Figurative language refers to a way of using description to create a special image and bring out one's emotions. It is also closely linked to the senses. There are several types of figurative language. Figurative language is an important part of writing and is also widely used in speech.

Meaning of Figurative Language

  • The term "figurative language" refers to bypassing the literal meaning to deepen, broaden, or bring about new ideas or insights into a word or phrase. In many ways, figurative language is a description, in which abstract terms are used in place of concrete description. This type of language appeals to one's imagination and creates visual images to display the impact of what is being written. Figurative language can include many words and phrases, and there are several types of figurative language. Most commonly, it can refer to making comparisons, repeating sounds, exaggerating or creating an appeal to the senses.

Simile & Metaphor

  • Similes and metaphors are the two most common types of figurative language, according to Roberts and Jacobs. In many ways these terms are the same. They both take something concrete and compare it to something abstract to create a deeper, more imaginative meaning. Both also are used to compare unlike items that normally do not go together. The main difference between these terms is that a simile includes the words "like" or "as," while a metaphor does not. Examples of a simile and a metaphor, respectively: The boy sat as quiet as a mouse during the movie." " Her eyes were sparkling stars in the sky.

Alliteration & Personification

  • Alliteration refers to the repetition of words with similar consonant sounds. This type of figurative language is used to establish rhythm and bring about a certain mood with words. Similarly, the term for the repetition of vowel sounds is assonance. For example: She sells seashells down by the seashore. Personification occurs when human-like qualities are given to inanimate objects, animals or ideas. Personification creates an abstract emotional image by making an abnormal statement about an activity that could not possibly be conducted by an inanimate object. For example: The tree twisted its long arms in the wind.

Other Types of Figurative Language

  • Hyperbole is an exaggeration of the importance of a word or event, while understatement refers to downplaying the importance. Both are types of figurative language that are used to add emphasis and evoke a feeling. Imagery is another type of figurative language that is directly linked to the senses, and uses description to appeal to our senses. Onomatopoeia refers to words that demonstrate the action that is being performed. For example, words like "pop" and "buzz" can help to make an image more vivid.

Functions and Uses

  • Figurative language and all of its types are used in writing to convey emotion, create mental pictures and even replace reality. It is used to add description and feeling to a piece of writing. It can create an unconventional image that goes beyond how something is normally perceived. Figurative language is used in all types of writing, most often in poetry. But it is also used in everyday speech. Often, when speaking, individuals add in lots of figurative language when describing a person, place or event, or when telling a story.


  • Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing; Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs; 2007
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