11 Common Types of Figurative Language (With Examples)
Updated July 21, 2023
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Figurative language serves as an excellent communication tool and is something we encounter daily that helps us convey complex descriptions or emotions quickly and effectively. Also referred to as "figures of speech," figurative language can be utilized to persuade, engage and connect with an audience and amplify your intended message. Implementing figurative language takes some careful thought and close observations to successfully convey your intended meaning.
In this article, we review 11 common types of figurative language and evaluate some examples to deepen your understanding.
What is figurative language?
Figurative language is the use of descriptive words, phrases and sentences to convey a message that means something without directly saying it. Its creative wording is used to build imagery to deepen the audience's understanding and help provide power to words by using different emotional, visual and sensory connections.
Figurative language is used to:
Compare two unlike ideas to increase understanding of one
Describe ideas sometimes difficult to understand
Show a deeper emotion or connection
Influence the audience
Help make connections
Make descriptions easier to visualize
Elicit an emotion
11 types of figurative language with examples
Figurative language is used in literature like poetry, drama, prose and even speeches. Figures of speech are literary devices that are also used throughout our society and help relay important ideas in a meaningful way. Here are 10 common figures of speech and some examples of the same figurative language in use:
A simile is a comparison between two unlike things using the words "like," "as" or "than." Often used to highlight a characteristic of one of the items, similes rely on the comparison and the audience's ability to create connections and make inferences about the two objects being discussed and understand the one similarity they share.
My mother is as busy as a bee.
They fought like cats and dogs.
My dog has a bark as loud as thunder.
Her love for her children is as constant as the passing of time.
A metaphor is a direct comparison without using the comparative words "like" or "as." Metaphors equate the two things being compared to elicit a stronger connection and deepen the meaning of the comparison. Some metaphors, which continue for several lines or an entire piece, are called extended metaphors.
Her smile is the sunrise.
Your son was a shining star in my classroom.
The tall trees were curtains that surrounded us during our picnic.
The ants soldiered on to steal our dessert.
Personification is attributing human characteristics to nonhuman things. This personifies objects and makes them more relatable.
The chair squealed in pain when the hammer smashed it.
The tree's limb cracked and groaned when lightning hit it.
My heart jumped when my daughter entered the room in her wedding dress.
The computer argued with me and refused to work.
Onomatopoeia is the use of descriptive words that sound or mimic the noise they are describing.
The water splashed all over the top of the car.
Owls screech through the night and keep us awake when we are camping.
My stomach grumbled in hunger as we entered the restaurant.
Thumping and booming in excitement, my heart pounded to hear the results of the lottery.
An oxymoron is a description using two opposite ideas to create an effective description. The format is often an adjective proceeded by a noun.
My father's thoughtless idea landed him in the middle of the lake without a life jacket.
The jumbo shrimp is a favorite of customers.
The loud silence of night keeps him awake.
An ever-flowing stillness of water, the river cuts through the woods.
A hyperbole is an over-exaggeration used to emphasize an emotion or description. Sometimes hyperbole also implements the use of simile and comparative words.
I am so hungry I would eat dirt right now.
My brother is taller than a skyscraper.
The concert was so loud the drums echoed in space.
Racing through the day was a marathon run for me.
Related: 7 Satire Techniques With Tips
Litotes are figures of speech that use understatement to make a point. It is often sarcastic in tone. The statement is affirmed by negating the opposite.
I can't say I disagree with what you're saying.
My dog is not the friendliest.
He's not even a little tired after staying up all night watching television.
She's not unkind.
An idiom is a commonly used expression that has acquired a meaning different from its literal meaning. Idiomatic phrases vary by culture and language. They are often difficult to grasp for language learners because the expression's true meaning is so different than what is being expressed.
My grandmother's garden is flourishing because of her green thumb.
The children could not play baseball because it was raining cats and dogs outside.
You must play your cards right to win at the game of life.
Some people throw in the towel before they should and never learn the value of working hard for success.
Related: 8 Types of Symbolism
Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the start of one or more words near one another. It is often used to emphasize an emotion or reveal a stronger description.
The pitter-patter of paws echoed down the hallway and woke me from my slumber.
The clamoring clash of dished cracking on the concrete burned my ears.
Old creaking crates carry ages of dust within them and are about to burst open.
The babble of babies brings joy to my ears.
An allusion is a reference to a well-known person, place, thing or event of historical, cultural or literary merit. It requires the audience to use their background knowledge to understand the meaning.
You stole the forbidden fruit when you took his candy.
He didn't do anything as bad as chopping down a cherry tree.
She was Helen of Troy of the class and made all the boys fight.
My little girl ran faster than a speeding bullet when she grabbed my lipstick.
Synecdoche is a figure of speech that uses a part of something to refer to its whole. Less commonly, synecdoche can be used when a whole is used to refer to a part. The most common types of wholes and parts include a physical structure and its parts, an object and the material it is made out of, a container and what it holds, and a category and the items in those categories.
She's got an awesome set of wheels!
The company needs more hands on deck to get complete this project in time.
The White House issued a statement today.
The captain commands 70 sails.
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