Figurative language types/Definition/Usages/example

What is figurative language?

The figurative language or figurative sense consists of a tool or modality of communication , which uses figures of speech to express a non-literal meaning of a given utterance. In this article we will elaborate the types of figurative language.

Figurative language is used to give speech more expressiveness, to make the meaning of a word broader. In addition, it also serves to create different meanings or when the interlocutor does not find a suitable term for what he wants to communicate.

The interpretation of figurative language may depend on the context of each individual, this is because this is an unconventional type of language that is not based on the usual norms of communication.

b) In the second example, the word appears with another meaning, subject to different interpretations, depending on the context in which it is used. In this case, the connotative meaning – or connotation of the linguistic sign – prevails.

Related to semantics, figurative language is composed of figures of speech , which serve as structuring elements of the language. It is the opposite of literal language, which uses words in their true meaning.

When figurative language is used, the interpretation depends on the listener or reader. There are several tests in which the ability to interpret is evaluated, and the person must identify the figures of speech used in the utterance.

Figures of speech can be: figures of speech , figures of construction , figures of thought and figures of sound .

Examples of figurative language

“He is drowning in his worries. ” This phrase must be interpreted figuratively, because it is not physically possible for a person to drown with a worry. In this case, the phrase means that the individual’s concerns are limiting and harming.

” When Francisco got there, he ran into the gate “. This phrase can be interpreted in two ways: literally or figuratively. The literal meaning indicates that Francisco arrived at a certain place and literally hit the gate with his face. The figurative sense does not imply a physical shock, but it does indicate that when Francisco arrived there, the gate was closed and he was unable to enter.

How is figurative language used?

Figurative language is used in both literature and poetry to create layers of meaning that the reader accesses through senses, symbolism, and sound devices. The figurative language brings the reader closer to the theme of the work, without the author having to explain the theme to the reader. It is a way for the reader to input the words with their minds and emotions, rather than simply understanding a story or poem. Figurative language encourages the reader to make connections with the characters, plot, and deeper message of a work that creates a more memorable experience for the reader. There are several types of figurative language, but the most common are:

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Symbolism
  • Hyperbole
  • Images
  • oxymoron
  • Paradox
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Apostrophe

The main types of figurative language

Below are the types of figurative language.


A simile is a comparison between two different things using the words “like” or “as”. It is a way of establishing a connection between two ideas or things and creating a deeper level of meaning for the reader. Known for his use of similes in The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet , William Shakespeare uses a simile to describe Romeo’s astonishment at Juliet’s beauty: “Oh, she teaches torches to shine! / Her beauty hangs over the face of the night, / Like a rich jewel in an Ethiopian’s ear. ”In this simile, Romeo is starting the motif of light against darkness, where Juliet is always a bright light and everything goes dark around her.

In addition to the typical simile, there are also Homeric or epic similes, which are extended passages that develop a complex and ornate simile. For example, in The Odyssey , Homer describes the implantation of the Cyclops’ eye in elaborate and almost painful detail: “…its crackling roots glowed and hissed – like a blacksmith dips a red-hot ax or adze into an icy bath and the metal screams steam and his temper hardens – that’s the strength of iron – so that Cyclops’ eye sizzled around that stake.”

In this example, the sinking of the hot stake into Polyphemus’ eye caused a fiery hissing sound similar to a blacksmith dipping hot steel into water. gross! But Homer’s epic simile is so vivid it’s hard to forget.


Unlike a simile, a metaphor compares two different things or ideas, without the use of “like” or “as”; the connection between the two is more implicit than explicitly expressed by the author. The purpose of a metaphor is again to establish a deeper connection and another layer of meaning for a character, plot or theme. A simple metaphor can be found in Edgar Allan Poe’s ” The Raven ” when the narrator remarks, “And every dying ember made his ghost fall to the ground”, referring to the embers of the fire turning into ghosts, much like with the ghost of Lenore’s memory, who will visit him soon.

An extended metaphor is more complex than a simple metaphor in that it is typically expressed throughout the entirety of a work. Emily Dickinson is famous for using extensive metaphors, as in her poem “ Because I Couldn’t Stop for Death ” which uses a journey with Death personified to mirror life’s typical journey from childhood to inevitable death. Extended metaphors are also sometimes called allegories , although allegories tend to be used with larger works and novels, such as Animal Farm by George Orwell.


Personification is the attribution of human qualities to an inanimate object, person, animal, or abstract idea. Personification is used to simplify a more complex concept, provide humor, or provide a clearer view of a complicated idea or situation. Personification is most often used in poetry to create an image or to help establish mood. Robert Frost uses the personification in his poem “ Stopping in the woods on a snowy night ” when he gives the horse human qualities: “He gives his harness a squeeze / To ask if there is any mistake.” Horses don’t ask questions, but the horse’s confusion seems to mirror the narrator’s own confusion and reluctance to keep moving.


Symbolism uses objects, characters and motifs to create a pattern of deeper meaning that stands out in the reader’s mind. Typically uses something physical to represent a broader, more abstract idea. Symbols often illuminate the deeper message or theme of a work, and sometimes access common archetypes to create a universal understanding of its meaning. In James Hurst’s ” The Scarlet Ibis “, the ibis himself represents little brother Doodle: he’s come a long way to a place he doesn’t belong, elongated neck, crooked legs and a red hue that suggests a weakness that cannot be overcome.


A hyperbole is an obvious exaggeration or exaggeration to make a point. It is not meant to be taken seriously and usually, when explored, reveals a deeper meaning. Hyperboles occur most often in poetry, but they often also appear in common clichés or sayings. For example, “The shot heard around the world” is a phrase often used to describe the first shot fired by British soldiers at unarmed colonial citizens who started the Revolutionary War . While the actual shot was not heard around the world, the implications of that shot changed world history. Macbeth also feels he will never be cleansed of his murderous act of killing King Duncan in The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Macbeth laments: “Does the ocean of Neptune wash away this blood? Clean from my hand? Not. This hand of mine will prefer / The numerous red seas, marking the red green. “In this scene, not even the oceans can wash Macbeth’s hands of King Duncan’s blood.


Images access all of the reader’s senses to create powerful mental experiences of characters and events, as well as emotional responses to those events. Images use descriptions of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell to tell the reader the mood, tone, and theme. Images are often created by other types of figurative language, including metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia, symbolism, and personification. In the novel Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, Dickens paints a grim picture of the fateful morning when Pip leaves to deliver the food and file for the convict, setting the dark mood for the reader to highlight Pip’s fear and isolation in this ordeal. Pip recalls: “It was an empty morning and very humid. I’d seen the damp outside my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and used the window for a pocket square. Now I saw the dampness over the bare hedges and reserve grass, as a grosser type of cobwebs: hanging from branch to branch and blade to blade.” Dickens makes use of similes to create the vivid visual image of the wet and dirty morning in the swamp.


An oxymoron combines two contradictory words or ideas into one sentence to highlight a problematic idea or connection for the reader. In poetry, oxymorons are used for more of an artistic effect, to create powerful contradictory images in the reader’s mind. Shakespeare was well known for such contradictions, especially in his play The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet . Some of her most famous oxymorons of the play come when Juliet initially believes Romeo is a cold-blooded murderer, but she also can’t believe that someone so handsome could commit such an ugly act. She cries: “Beautiful tyrant! Angelic Fiend! Feathered raven, raven-raven lamb! Despised substance of the divine show / Just the opposite of what you just seem.

Oxymorons are simpler versions of paradoxes.


A paradox is a statement containing two seemingly contradictory ideas, but true nonetheless. It’s a stronger version of an oxymoron in that it leads the reader to see both sides of a truth at the same time. George Orwell uses paradoxes in his novel 1984 , with Big Brother mantras: “War is Peace”; “Freedom is slavery”; “Ignorance is strength”. While this makes no sense in today’s world, in Oceania, the war maintains the status quo; those who follow the Party line are left alone, and those who don’t know much don’t suffer from seeing all the contradictions around them.


Onomatopoeias are words that imitate sounds. Onomatopoeias are primarily used in poetry, and are often used to create imagery, symbolism, or repetition, which often point to the poem‘s theme or message. Edgar Allan Poe uses onomatopoeia to establish a mood of content and then terror in his poem “ The Bells ”, which becomes increasingly threatening as death approaches:

Hear the loud alarms,
Brass Bells!
What a horror story now your turmoil tells!
In the frightened wonder of the night
How they cry out their interest!
Too horrified to speak
They can only scream, scream,
Out of tune…
How they scream and clash and roar!


An apostrophe, in figurative language, is the direct address for an absent person, object, or abstract idea. An apostrophe is often used to start a poem to establish the main subject or mood. It is also a way for the author to use personification to clarify a complex idea or to bring any character to work. One of the best-known examples of an apostrophe is in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, in which Macbeth’s dagger comes to life, personifying his own conscience as he prepares to kill King Duncan. Macbeth, both terrified and hypnotized, says: “Is this a dagger I see before me? The dagger towards my hand? Come, let me hug you! I don’t have you, and yet I still see you.

We hope that you have grasped the types of figurative language.

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