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What Is Figurative Language? Definition, Types & Examples

UserMark time20 October,2021

So, what is figurative language?  How does one precisely define it?

Essentially, figurative languages are typically considered ornamental, making any plain, ordinary language more vibrant and expressive. Figurative languages tend to be more explicit, vivid, and unique, painting a clear picture for readers through words. With the ability to make content more enticing and engaging, different kinds of figurative language are employed by writers to help the audience visualize what's described or depicted and gain a deeper understanding of what's being conveyed. However, figures of speeches can and have also been used to inject a more profound meaning into a content,

One crucial thing to remember is that figurative languages are not meant to be taken literally. Instead, they are generally employed as rhetorical devices to construct a compelling argument or evoke a reaction from the reader.

Consider the following example.

He moved mountains to achieve what he wanted.

The above sentence conveys that the subject made great efforts to attain his objectives; it's common sense that no human can move a mountain!

While not factually accurate, Figurative languages can help a reader understand the facts better by describing or conveying something vividly in a way that's impossible for literal language to do.

Let’s take a closer look at the different aspects of figurative language in greater depth, starting with a stark comparison with its literal counterpart.

Figurative Language vs Literal Language

Figures of speech is a much more popular term used to describe figurative languages used in different content, such as stories, poems, articles on periodicals, and the like. You should know about figures of speech like Metaphor. Symbolic and metaphorical words & expressions are generally flowery and often deemed fanciful & trivial; however, in numerous cases, figurative expressions have been used as conceptual metaphors that highlight or portray deeper meanings.

Hence, while literal languages generally do not convey any deep underlying representations, figurative languages represent a deeper meaning or idea to the reader.

A reader may often need to take a pause and think of the intrinsic duality of figures of speech, eventually melding both the literal & figurative meaning to get a better understanding. Readers need to consider the implications and connotations of words & expressions in works containing figurative language.

Now that we have gone through the basic definition of figurative language let's look at the different types and their applications.

Types of Figurative Language: Definitions & Applications

There are seven standard figures of speech in the English language. While they all fall under the figurative language category, they can be classified into specific groups & classes, namely:

  • Figurative Comparison: SIMILE, METAPHOR, PERSONIFICATION
  • Figurative Substitution: METONYMY, SYNECDOCHE
  • Figurative Exaggeration: HYPERBOLE, LITOTES

SIMILE: A simile is an indirect comparison between two different entities using the words like or as or any equivalent term. E.g., X is like Y.

METAPHOR: Metaphors involve making direct comparisons, either explicit o implicit, between two different things. E.g., X is Y

PERSONIFICATION: Personifications are comparisons of something non-human to a human being. They lend a human attribute or characteristics to a non-human. Figures of apostrophe and reification are related to personification .E.g., The moon was a sad face in the sky, lamenting at what could have been.

METONYMY: Metonymy is the substitution of some term with one that’s closely related to it. E.g., Only The White House can authorize such a drastic mission.

SYNECDOCHE involves substituting parts for the whole, the whole for the part, individuals for the class, and the like. E.g., Five hundred thousand swords bled the whole city dry and dealt a crippling blow to the fledgling empire.

HYPERBOLE: A hyperbole is an overstatement of a literal term, similar to an exaggeration.

LITOTES: Litotes is an understatement of the literal and does the reverse of hyperbole.

Here are some more examples of the above.

Metaphor --> He is a snake; never trust him with anything.

Simile --> She is as blind as a bat without her glasses.

Personification --> The Berlin Wall stood as a sentry against opposing ideologies.

Metonymy--> The pen is mightier than the sword.

Synecdoche --> All hands on deck!

Hyperbole--> That’s things is large enough to fit a thousand things! Just look at it!

Litotes --> The street’s completely flooded and cars submerged; I think it’s fair to say that it has rained quite a bit.

There are several other types of figurative languages other than the popular ones above, namely,

  • ALLITERATION--> same initial consonant sounds in a group of words, E.g. Live well, often laugh and love much.
    • ONOMATOPOEIA --> words that sound like the object or idea they are associated with or trying to convey, E.g. The movie ended with a whimper instead of a bang.
    • ANTITHESIS --> juxtaposition of contradicting or conflicting ideas, E.g. I have never saved a book, but books have always kept me.
    • PARALLELISM --> words, phrases or sentences that begin with the same part of speech, E.g.  I have wasted time, missed & let go of opportunities, misspent money, damaged my body and polluted my mind. No wonder I am struggling and suffering so much.
    • IRONY --> words that express an idea or meaning contradictory to the intended or expected meaning, E.g. His determination was as strong as rotten wood
    • OXYMORON --> supposedly contradictory phrase, E.g. He is a humble swindler, begging people for money and then disappearing without a trace.
    • PERSONIFICATION --> giving human characteristics to anything non-human, E.g. The old house groaned under the onslaught of the raging storm.
    • REPETITION --> using the exact words or phrases to evoke an emotion, E.g. I will not quit, I will not be afraid, and I will not let my demons be the end of me.
    • PUN --> play on similar-sounding words or phrases to imply a different meaning, E.g. He & his friends were in their private ‘high’ school when the cops came calling and arrested them all.
    • IDIOM --> expressions or phrases that mean different than their literal counterpart, E.g. You got your back against the wall; better get your act together before you are down for the count.
    • ALLUSION --> referring to any entity while mentioning or describing anything, E.g. This wall is as strong as Captain America’s shield.

One key thing to note is that the above-mentioned figurative languages are primarily used as rhetorical devices in literature to add spice to arguments or to persuade & steer the minds of an audience.

Two more ideas that need a mention are tropes & schemes. Tropes involve figures of speech that use words unusually or unexpectedly. Schemes, on the other hand, apply a creative alteration in the standard order of words. The types mentioned above of figurative languages comprise schemes, tropes as well as figurative rhetorical devices.

That rounds up this blog on figurative languages. Hope it acts as a handy and informative resource for everyone in need.

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