We constantly see people talking in non-literal terms but explaining their feelings through clever wordings. They are basically making use of figurative language, knowingly or unknowingly. For example, to wish someone luck, people often say ‘Break a Leg’ but no one means it in a literal way. Another would be when a sportsman or friend runs fast, people might say ‘He runs as fast as a Cheetah’. Now a person would struggle even to reach a cheetah’s half pace. But, his words made more of an impact because of their panache and flourish.
Sometimes creative wordplay is easier to understand and can depict a better picture. Poets and writers throughout history have proven just that. For instance, Marco Polo, a renowned explorer kept a very updated journal about his travels. His writings particularly used figurative language to describe how he felt, and how he saw things through his eyes.
Figurative language gives more perspective to how another person perceives events in life. A metaphor, simile, or an idiom are great examples. Today we will discuss 15 types of figurative languages.
Figurative language, often known as a figure of speech, is the use of words that go beyond their literal meaning to convey ideas or beautify writing or speech.
A majority of us heavily rely on figurative language to make our points in everyday conversations. Like saying ’time is money’ to someone who often wastes your time with gibberish instead of saying that directly. Telling someone you love that ’they are your sun’ because you feel your life revolves around them. Wishing someone good luck by saying ‘break a leg’ but obviously, you don’t want them to break their leg.
Figurative speech or language has deep roots and internal meanings in one’s language as well as culture. Their intent does not translate from one region to another. Since the figure of speech is heavily influenced by intent and culture, people living in different regions would not understand the gist of the matter. So you can say most figures of speeches are often localized. If you have friends from different cultures you might have heard them say ‘In my culture there is a saying’ and then will tell you something you might or might not relate to.
Why Does Figurative Writing and Language Have More Impact?
Figurative language helps you make better comparisons, give realism to dialogue, express your ideas more clearly, give more vivid imagery, and also provide rhythm to your writing. If you know your strut, figurative language can help you become an excellent communicator. Which is a highly in-demand skill in most offices. The key is to familiarize yourself with different types of figurative expressions and use them in the right situations. This will help improve a person’s writing, while also improving one’s speech.
Let’s take a real-life example of how figurative language can make complex descriptions easier. Schrödinger’s cat, for instance, is a well-known thought experiment to illustrate paradoxes in quantum mechanics; without figurative language, you’d have to study everything there is to know about subatomic physics, quantum superposition, and a ton of other complex concepts. The metaphor makes a complex experiment easy to understand for people with a non-science background.
15 Types of Figurative Language with Examples
People in the field of communication and writing often use figurative language to relay their information to users. Novelists, poets, teachers, and communication specialists are often judged on how well they execute their figurative phrases. Here are 15 common types of figurative language:
Idioms are expressions that are particular to a language, society, or territory. If you aren’t a native speaker or culturally familiar with the term, you generally won’t understand the meaning because the literal meaning and figurative meaning in these types of expressions are distinct.
- It takes one to know one – Means you are just as bad as I am
- It was a piece of cake – Means It was easy
- It’s raining cats and dogs – Which means heavy rain
A metaphor explains how two things are similar to one another by making a comparison. The comparison provides more context which helps in supporting the idea you are trying to portray and leaves a lasting impression on the target audience. Metaphors also help people understand new concepts by comparison with something they already understand.
- He is a couch Potato – Which means he is very lazy
- She is happy as a clam – Which means she is very happy
- He is a night owl – Which means he sleeps very late
A simile is more of a direct type of comparison. It is when we link two or more things, ideas, with ‘like’ or ‘as’. The use of a simile helps readers and listeners get a more vivid feel for what is being described. When used right, it can make audiences feel similar emotions to the speaker or writer.
- Fits like a glove – Means perfect fit
- Busy as a bee – This means being very busy
- We fight like cats and dogs – Means to fight like animals
A metonymy is when a concept is specifically referred to by being described by some or one of its qualities. Another comparison-based figure of speech, but this time you’re just using one term or phrase as a synonym for another rather than drawing a direct comparison.
- Lend me a hand – Means asking for help
- Lend me your ears – Means listen to me
- It’s all Wallstreet – Means the American financial industry
Personification is the process of giving human attributes to nonhuman things. This helps create relatability for objects, places, and animals. You might have used this form of speech or writing without knowing about it, at least once in your lifetime.
- The light danced on the water’s surface – Attributing the quality of dance to the movement of light on the water
- Justice is blind at times – Attributing blindness to injustice
- Money is my only friend – Attributing the qualities of friendship to money
In synecdoche, a word describes or represents something completely. Writers can give different meanings to a particular phrase.
- Nice wheels – Wheels describe the entire car
- Give me a headcount – Head describe an entire person
- Living behind bars – Bars represent jail or prison
A hyperbole is when someone purposely exaggerates something to give it more emotion and context. Simile and comparative words are used when making points in hyperbole. What is being said might even sound ridiculous.
- I told you to stay quite a million times – Which means telling the same thing over and over again
- I am hungry I could eat a horse – Which means being very hungry
- It costs an arm and a leg – Which means buying something very expensive
Hyperbole is the exact opposite of litotes. Understatements are used in this type of figurative speech to emphasize a point. It frequently has a sarcastic tone. When someone uses a litote, they convey the statement’s opposing meaning by using negation. Litotes often use double negatives “not wrong” or “not bad.”
- Don’t say I did not warn you – it means I gave you the warning, your choice now
- That was not half bad – Means something was better than expected
- You’re hardly annoying – This means you are not as annoying as you think
In symbolism, a thing or a word is used to represent a concept, feeling, or belief. A physical object, color, word, location, event, or person can all serve as symbols. People frequently use symbolism to connect tangible objects with intangible emotions, ideas, or relationships.
- White stands for purity – The color is given a symbol to represent something
- Red stands for passion – Again a color is a symbol of an emotion
- My love is like a song – The beauty of a song is used to describe feelings of love
A reference to a well-known person, place, event, or thing is an allusion. Allusions make references to well-known individuals, locations, objects, or events. Also, lots of writers make allusions to other books, plays, poems, or works of literature. Readers or audience members often need to be familiar with the context or culture of the particular reference to understand an allusion.
- It feels like David vs. Goliath – Comparing a mismatch with a religious reference
- You can search for that holy grail all you want – Comparing something to an unfindable object
- I am a fan of the King – The king is Elvis Presley, and the person is his fan
Also known as wordplay, a pun is when someone uses similar-sounding words to make a joke or be sarcastic. These words usually have different meanings and this is often the gist of the joke. This involves being able to differentiate between both words meanings.
- She had a photographic memory but never developed it – A joke about how a camera works.
- I am a baker because I knead the dough – Dough sounds similar to doh a slang for money
- It’s pointless to write with a broken pencil – Because sharpened pencils have a needle-like point
This is when a writer uses repetition of vowels, for example, E, I, O, A, and U. Assonance relies on repetition of similar words.
- Try to fly like a bird
- Fall from so high that you die
- She feels stressed about her dress
The recurrence of a word or phrase in several clauses or phrases is known as anaphora. Writers can emphasize a literal or emotional meaning by using anaphora.
- Go big or go home – Means to risk it all or nothing
- Get busy living or get busy dying – This means there are two ways to life
- Give me liberty or give me death – Means give me freedom or kill me
14. Implied Metaphor
An implicit or implied metaphor is one of the different kinds of metaphors. In an implied metaphor, a writer explains similarities between two things without directly comparing them.
- The woman barked at her son – Without any direct link, the comparison of woman with a dog is an example.
- He is as strong as an Ox – Comparison of a man’s strength with an Ox
- She has an eagle eye – Eyesight compared to an eagle
Oxymoron is the description of two different ideas to create a vivid description.
- The deafening silence in the mountains – Silence and deafening are examples of Oxymorons
- The new icy hot beverage – the beverage can’t be icy and hot but steam and fog do look similar
- Alice is a wise fool – When someone is smart but does dumb things
When you start looking for figurative language you will begin to see it all around you. Figurative language accounts for a major portion of our personalities. You might know a friend who is a great writer or a great storyteller. Next time notice how figurative language helps them do what they do so well. The key to understanding the use of figurative language and using it efficiently is being observant.