FAQ - English & Grammar

What Is Figurative Language? Definition, Examples, and Types.

What Is Figurative Language?


Figurative language is a literary device that uses words or phrases for effect, humorous, or exaggeration purposes, instead of their literal translation. It is commonly used to create an emotional reaction, especially in fiction, and to make reading more enjoyable. It’s also used to explain or simplify a complex idea or to “paint a picture” with words.


Figurative Language Examples


·         I haven’t eaten in six hours; I’m starving!

·         The tree limbs knocked on his window as the wind blew.

·         It’s raining cats and dogs.

·         I hear in the chamber above me, the patter of little feet.


Types of Figurative Language


1.       Simile

2.       Metaphor

3.       Hyperbole

4.       Personification

5.       Allusion

6.       Onomatopoeia

7.       Idiom

8.       Implied metaphor

9.       Pun




A simile compares one thing to another using the words “like” or “as” to make the description more vivid. For example, He moves as slowly as a sloth. While “he” does not literally move as slowly as a sloth, the comparison indicates that he’s moving at a sluggish speed.


·         She pulled the fabric until it was as tight as a drum.

·         Edward’s skin sparkled like diamonds in the sunlight.

·         At 27 mph, Hussain Bolt can run as fast as a pit bull.




A metaphor also involves a comparison between two things, but without the use of “like” or “as.” Many metaphors use a “to be” verb between each word in the comparison. In the sentence, Billy is a night owl, Billy is being compared to a night owl to imply that he stays up late at night.


·         Time is money.

·         He used to say that he was a cash cow.

·         Laughter is the best medicine.




With personification, the writer assigns the physical or emotional attributes of a human to a non-living thing. Personification is common in fiction and other forms of creative writing, especially children’s books.


·         The wind carried her voice throughout the woods.

·         His spicy chili kicked him in the mouth.

·         The sun kissed her face.




Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration to create emphasis. The sentiments expressed in hyperboles are typically not even close to being possible. For example, A million dreams are keeping me awake. It’s probably impossible to dream a million dreams in a lifetime. Therefore, this expression is used to indicate that the person is full of wonderful ideas.


·         Beth’s mother told her 1,000 times to stay off that bridge.

·         The suspense is killing me.

·         Eric is drowning in debt.




In literature, allusion is an indirect reference to a person, idea, object, literary work, event, concept, element of pop culture, or some other noun that the reader is likely already familiar with. Allusions can also be metaphors and similes.


·         Mr. Einstein over here solved the problem in 12 seconds. (Albert Einstein)

·         She discovered that he was the man behind the curtain. (The Wizard of Oz)

·         What they thought was a reward ended up being a Trojan horse. (Virgil’s Aeneid)




Onomatopoeia is a word that, when spoken aloud, imitates the sound it describes. For example, “meow” mimics the common vocalization that a cat makes, and “sizzle” imitates the sound that food makes as it’s cooking.


·         Sally giggled.

·         Her hiccup frightened her.

·         The child wouldn’t stop whining.




An idiom is a phrase in which the words are not intended to be defined literally. A well-known idiom is “blessing in disguise.”


·         Back to square one

·         Once in a blue moon

·         Chip on her shoulder



Implied Metaphor


An implied metaphor suggests a comparison of two things, instead of explicitly stating that one thing is being compared to another. For example, The boy hissed with irritation. Although “cat” doesn’t appear in this sentence, the reader can conclude that the boy is being compared to a cat because of the word “hissed.”


·         The room erupted in laughter.

·         Hector was shackled to his studies.

·         Deepti snarled at him in response.



A pun is a method of word play that exploits different meanings of a word or words that sound similar to elicit a humorous reaction.

·         “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” – Mark Twain

·         Because it was so dark, she didn’t see the knight in front of her.

·         The phone was just a prop. It was phony.

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