Figurative Language Examples: How to Use These 5 Common Types (2023)

Figurative language is a way of expressing oneself that does not use a word’s strict or realistic meaning. Common in comparisons and exaggerations, figurative language is usually used to add creative flourish to written or spoken language or explain a complicated idea.

Have you ever heard someone talk about “butterflies in their stomach” when they’re nervous? There aren’t actually butterflies inside of their stomach—that would be cruel! They’re just using figurative language to describe the uneasy sensation in their body that feels as if a butterfly were moving around inside them.

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Figurative language can be difficult (like moving a mountain!), so below we have a quick guide on what it is, why it’s useful, and how to use it yourself. There are many types of figurative language—we explain five of the most common types, along with examples.

(Video) Figurative Language | Types of Figurative Language

What is figurative language?

Basically, figurative language is anytime you stretch the actual meaning of words for effect, whether to sound artistic, make a joke, or communicate more clearly and engagingly. Figurative language is a common technique in narrative writing, where the author strives to make emotional connections with the reader.

The opposite of figurative language is literal language, or phrasing that uses the exact meaning of the words without imagination or exaggeration. For example, if an athlete is doing well, you might say they’re “on fire” figuratively. If their clothes catch on fire (which hopefully doesn’t happen), then they’d be on fire literally.

What is the purpose of figurative language?

Literal language serves its purpose in certain contexts, such as professional communication, academic papers, or legal documents. However, in other contexts, to put it bluntly, literal writing could be boring.

On the contrary, figurative language helps make writing and speeches more engaging and amusing. The reader or listener has to think about the words a little more, as if deciphering a riddle, which means they’re actively participating.

Another use of figurative language is to help simplify complex ideas. Scientists might use it to explain the more complicated aspects of their research that a general audience might not understand.

For example, Schrödinger’s cat is a popular thought experiment to explain paradoxes in quantum mechanics; without using figurative language, you’d have to learn all about subatomic physics, quantum superposition, and tons of other hard-to-understand concepts. For people without years of scientific training, the metaphor makes it easier to learn.

Figurative language makes full use of literary devices, particularly the five mentioned below. Literary devices, in general, work well for making your writing more entertaining, comprehensible, and poignant, so it’s no surprise that they go hand-in-hand with figurative language.

5 common types of figurative language with examples

1 Simile

A simile compares two different things, using the words “like” or “as” to draw attention to the comparison.

“The very mystery of him excited her curiosity like a door that had neither lock nor key.” —Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

(Video) Metaphor, Simile, Personification, Hyperbole | Figurative Language Lesson

“He swung a great scimitar, before which Spaniards went down like wheat to the reaper’s sickle.” —Raphael Sabatini, The Sea Hawk

2 Metaphor

A metaphor compares two different things, similar to a simile. The main difference between a simile and a metaphor is that metaphors do not use the words “like” or “as.”

Unlike similes, metaphors don’t acknowledge that they’re comparisons. A literal-minded reader might mistake them for reality, which makes them more figurative and poetic.

“The sun was a toddler insistently refusing to go to bed: It was past eight thirty and still light.” —John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.” —Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years

3 Personification

Personification is giving human characteristics to nonhuman or abstract things. This could be physical attributes (“the eye of the needle”), emotional attributes (“a single lonely shoe”), or human actions (“a leaf dancing in the wind”).

“Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

(Video) Figurative Language Vocabulary, Purpose, and Examples

And Immortality.”

—Emily Dickinson, “Because I could not stop for Death”

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” —John Hughes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

4 Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a great exaggeration, often unrealistic, to add emphasis to a sentiment. If you’re especially busy, you might say, “I have a million things to do”; if you’re bored, you might say, “I have nothing to do.” Neither are actually true, but the phrasing makes the statement more emphatic.

“There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.” —Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“I heard all things in the heaven and in the Earth. I heard many things in Hell. How then, am I mad?” —Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

5 Allusion

An allusion is a reference to a preexisting person, work, event, or well-known piece of pop culture. Allusions generally relate to common knowledge, so no explanation is necessary.

“The camera has its own kind of consciousness; in the lens the Garden of Eden itself would become ever so slightly too perfect.” —Arthur Miller, Timebends: A Life

“Fear’s kryptonite is laughter.” —Richelle E. Goodrich, Slaying Dragons

(Video) LITERARY DEVICES | Learn about literary devices in English | Learn with examples | Figure of speech

How to use figurative language in your own writing

Figurative language can improve any piece of writing, but only when used effectively. Here are four tips to keep in mind for using figurative language in your own writing:

Use figurative language sparingly

With figurative language, a little goes a long way. Think of it like cooking with salt: Using a little bit can enhance the taste and add wonderful new flavors, but overdoing it can ruin your meal.

Figurative language can be distracting, so it’s best to limit its usage. If you’re using metaphors, hyperbole, or other literary devices in every sentence, you’re going to exhaust your reader. Save them for only the key moments in your story.

Figurative language pairs well with humor

Aside from creating more engaging writing and helping to explain complex ideas, figurative language is also great for a laugh. Comedians and comedic writers often use it for punchlines and humorous analogies.

Hyperbole, especially an understatement, is particularly useful for cracking jokes. Think of Monty Python’s Black Knight referring to losing a limb as “but a scratch.”

Be careful when using figurative language as dialogue

Often in creative writing, it’s tempting to write figurative language as part of a character’s dialogue. While figurative language is quite common in everyday speech (i.e., “I could just die from embarrassment,” or “I’m starving!”), flowery phrases tend to stick out in conversations, and not always in a good way.

Even if a writer is particularly proud of a certain turn of phrase, putting those words in the mouth of a character can seem out of place or inauthentic. Excessive figurative language in dialogue can ruin the reader’s immersion and remind them that they’re actually reading a story. The exception is if talking extravagantly is a particular trait of your character, such as the purposefully pretentious Humbert Humbert from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

Think about how people talk in real life and use that as a guideline. If you come up with a brilliant figurative phrase that must be used, work it into the narration instead.

Never sacrifice clarity

Sometimes figurative language can simplify a complicated idea, but other times it can complicate a simple idea. If you want to add some figurative spice to a sentence, make sure that you don’t convolute the meaning.

(Video) Figurative Language

Remember that figurative language can be distracting, so sometimes it makes it harder for the reader to understand what you’re trying to say. Never sacrifice clarity for something that sounds nice—save figurative language for the times when you can have both.


What are 5 figurative examples? ›

While there are 12 common types, the five main branches of the figurative tree include metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and symbolism. One of the best ways to understand the concept of figurative language is to see it in action.

What are some examples of commonly used figurative language devices? ›

Other examples of metaphors include:
  • The warrior has a heart of stone.
  • Love is a battlefield.
  • Baby, you are my sunshine.
  • Chaos is a friend of the legislator.
  • I am drowning in a sea of grief.
  • My roommate is going through a rollercoaster of emotions.
24 Nov 2022

How do you use figurative language correctly? ›

How to Use Figurative Language Effectively
  1. Always know why you are using figurative language. ...
  2. Choose your figures of speech carefully. ...
  3. Use figurative language sparingly. ...
  4. If you are using figurative language as dialogue, be sure it is appropriate for that character.
8 Jan 2020

What are 5 examples of hyperbole? ›

Hyperbole examples
  • I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse.
  • My feet are killing me.
  • That plane ride took forever.
  • This is the best book ever written.
  • I love you to the moon and back.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.
  • I've told you this 20,000 times.
  • Cry me a river.
30 May 2021

What is 5 example of simile and metaphor? ›

Simile: Rapunzel's hair was as soft as clouds. Simile: Cinderella's slippers were as shiny as the sun. Metaphor: The snow is a white blanket. Metaphor: The calm lake was a mirror about what was to come.

What are 5 examples for simile? ›

Examples of Similes
  • As slow as a sloth.
  • As busy as a bee.
  • As innocent as a lamb.
  • As proud as a peacock.
  • As fast as a cheetah.
  • As blind as a bat.
  • As bold as brass.
  • As cold as ice.

What is a simile give 5 examples? ›

Examples of Similes Using “Like”

She eats like a pig. She ran like lightning. He looks like a fish out of water. She slept like a log. It was soft like velvet.

What sentence is an example of figurative language? ›

Figurative Language: Understanding the Concept

Out of reach, I pull out with a screech. I move fast like a cheetah on the Serengeti. Her head was spinning from all the new information. The toast jumped out of the toaster.

What are the 8 types of figurative language examples? ›

  • Simile. ...
  • Metaphor. ...
  • Personification. ...
  • Onomatopoeia. ...
  • Oxymoron. ...
  • Hyperbole. ...
  • Litotes. ...
  • Idiom.

What are the 4 types of figure of speech with examples? ›

In this lesson we look at four common types of figure of speech:
  • Simile. A figure of speech that says that one thing is like another different thing.
  • Metaphor. A figure of speech that says that one thing is another different thing.
  • Hyperbole. ...
  • Oxymoron.

How do you use hyperbole correctly? ›

Using hyperbole is simple: Think about describing anything that you have some feeling about. Think about the quality of the thing that you want to exaggerate, such as its size, difficulty, beauty, or anything, really. Think of a creatively exaggerated way to describe that.

Why do we use figurative language in your writing? ›

Figurative language compares things in order to give them more detail. We use figurative language to help the reader better understand what we are trying to describe.

What are figures of speech and their examples? ›

Common Examples
Figures of SpeechExamples
EuphemismHe passed away in his sleep
IronyYour hands are as clean as mud
AnaphoraDr Martin Luther King Jr: “I Have a Dream” Speech
ApostropheTwinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are
11 more rows

What is the example of hyperbole and irony? ›

Hyperbole is a marker of irony that not only directs the hearer's attention to the ironic contrast, but also increases the magnitude of that ironic contrast. Imagine it is raining. The ironic contrast is greater if you say “Oh my gosh, it's the sunniest day of my entire life!” rather than simply “Nice weather …”.

What is hyperbole short answer? ›

Hyperbole is a rhetorical and literary technique where an author or speaker intentionally uses exaggeration and overstatement for emphasis and effect.

What are the examples of personification? ›

Personification examples

The sun smiled down on us.” 'The story jumped off the page.” “The light danced on the surface of the water.”

How do you identify figures of speech in a sentence? ›

Complete answer: A figure of speech is a word or phrase that possesses a separate meaning from its literal meaning. It can be a metaphor or a simile, designed to make a comparison. It can be the repetition of alliteration or exaggeration of hyperbole to provide a dramatic effect.

What are the 4 most common figures of speech? ›

Below are the most common figures of speech, along with their definitions, examples, and tips for using them.
  • Simile. ...
  • Metaphor. ...
  • Pun. ...
  • Personification. ...
  • Hyperbole. ...
  • Understatement. ...
  • Paradox. ...
  • Oxymoron.

What is 10 examples of a metaphor? ›

Other examples of common metaphors are “night owl”, “cold feet”, “beat a dead horse”, “early bird”, “couch potato”, “eyes were fireflies”, “apple of my eye”, “heart of stone”, “heart of a lion”, “roller coaster of emotions”, and “heart of gold.”

What are 5 examples of metaphor in sentences? ›

Common metaphor examples
  • Life is a highway.
  • Her eyes were diamonds.
  • He is a shining star.
  • The snow is a white blanket.
  • She is an early bird.
12 Jan 2021

What is hyperbole and examples? ›

Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses an exaggerated or extravagant statement to create a strong emotional response. As a figure of speech it is not intended to be taken literally. Hyperbole is frequently used for humour. Examples of hyperbole are: They ran like greased lightning.

What are similes 3 examples? ›

Here are a few examples you can share with kids:
  • As cold as ice.
  • As light as a feather.
  • Cool as a cucumber.
  • American as apple pie.
  • They're like two peas in a pod.
  • Sleeping like a log.
  • Life is like a box of chocolates.

What are similes 100 examples? ›

  • As white as simile. As white as snow. As white as a sheet. As plain as paper. As white as a ghost. As cold as simile. ...
  • As soft as simile. As soft as silk. As soft as a baby's bottom. As soft as velvet. As soft as fur. Similes for excited. ...
  • As hot as simile. As hot as the sun. As hot as fire. As hot as hell. Angry simile.

What's an example of a metaphor? ›

If you're a black sheep, you get cold feet, or you think love is a highway, then you're probably thinking metaphorically.

How do you use simile in a sentence? ›

Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know which one you're going to get. Let's use this example to understand what a simile is: A simile is a phrase that uses a comparison to describe. For example, “life” can be described as similar to “a box of chocolates.”

How do we use similes? ›

A simile is a figure of speech that compares two unlike things using the words “like” or “as.” Common similes include the descriptive phrases “cool as a cucumber,” “cold as ice,” and “sly like a fox.” Writers often use similes to introduce concrete images into writing about abstract concepts.

What sentence is an example of imagery? ›

Imagery can contain either literal or figurative language. Literal imagery uses descriptive words that mean exactly what they say. For example: “The grass was green, and the flowers were red.”

What is an example of imagery in figurative language? ›

Imagery : when figurative language (like metaphor or simile ) evokes as a kind mental image any of the five senses, we call this imagery . “She is the sun” (a simile ) suggests imagery of light and warmth (the senses of sight and touch); thus she is likened—compared—to the sun in a positive ways though the imagery.

What are the 10 examples of personification? ›

50 Examples of Personification
  • Justice is blind and, at times, deaf.
  • Money is the only friend that I can count on.
  • The cactus saluted any visitor brave enough to travel the scorched land.
  • Jan ate the hotdog despite the arguments it posed to her digestive system.
  • The world does not care to hear your sad stories.

What are the 10 example of hyperbole? ›

The car went faster than the speed of light. His new car cost a bazillion dollars. We're so poor we don't have two cents to rub together. That joke is so old; the last time I heard it, I was riding a dinosaur.

What is a good example of alliteration? ›


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Sally sells seashells by the sea shore. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

What are the 3 figurative language? ›

Figurative language is a form of expression that uses nonliteral meanings to convey a more abstract meaning or message. There are many types, including: similes, metaphors, idioms, hyperboles, and personification.

What are the 7 figure of speech? ›

Uses of figures of speech

Many figures of speech contain metaphors, idioms, similes, ironies, antithesis, alliterations, personifications, and paradoxes.

What are the 6 types of figure of speech? ›

Types of Figures of Speech
  • Simile.
  • Metaphor.
  • Personification.
  • Paradox.
  • Understatement.
  • Metonymy.
  • Apostrophe.
  • Hyperbole.

What are the parts of speech with examples? ›

Parts of speech include nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions and interjections.
Examples of nouns used in sentences:
  • She bought a pair of shoes. (thing)
  • I have a pet. ...
  • Is this your book? ...
  • Many people have a fear of darkness. ...
  • He is my brother. ...
  • This is my school.

How do you identify hyperbole in a sentence? ›

Hyperbole Is Extreme Exaggeration

In using hyperbole, you take an ordinary exaggeration to new heights. If I'm really hungry, I might say, “I'm so hungry I could eat that entire pizza” even though I really mean I could eat a slice or two beyond my usual consumption. My “entire pizza” comment is an exaggeration.

What is imagery simple? ›

Imagery is a literary device used in poetry, novels, and other writing that uses vivid description that appeals to a readers' senses to create an image or idea in their head. Through language, imagery does not only paint a picture, but aims to portray the sensational and emotional experience within text.

What is an example of an allusion? ›

An allusion is when we hint at something and expect the other person to understand what we are referencing. For example: Chocolate is his Kryptonite. In the this example, the word “kryptonite” alludes to, or hints at, the hero Superman.

How do we use language? ›

The primary uses of language are informative, expressive, and directive in nature. Language is used to reason, to express ideas, argue a point, provide directions, and much more. Let's learn about the three main uses of language and how they are represented in written and spoken language.

How do you write figuratively? ›

Figurative language is phrasing that goes beyond the literal meaning of words to get a message or point across.
Writers create figurative language through figures of speech such as:
  1. Simile.
  2. Metaphor.
  3. Personification.
  4. Literary devices that heighten imagery, such as alliteration, assonance, and onomatopoeia.
31 Aug 2022

What is irony in figure of speech examples? ›

Examples of Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is when someone says the opposite of what they mean. It's also known as a figure of speech because you don't take the literal meaning. Like when a teacher tells a quiet class, “Don't everyone speak at once!”

Do you have wheels is an example of what figure of speech? ›

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which you use a part of something to stand for the whole thing. If your parents buy you a car and you say that you just got a new set of wheels, you're using synecdoche — you're using the wheels, which are part of a car, to refer to the whole car.

What figure of speech is alliteration? ›

Alliteration is “the use, in speech or writing, of several words close together which all begin with the same letter or sound”, according to the Collins Dictionary and “the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighbouring words or syllables”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

What are the types of figurative language? ›

Figurative language is a form of expression that uses nonliteral meanings to convey a more abstract meaning or message. There are many types, including: similes, metaphors, idioms, hyperboles, and personification.

What are the 7 figurative language? ›

Personification, onomatopoeia , Hyperbole, Alliteration, Simily, Idiom, Metaphor.

What are the 4 figurative language? ›

Authors use similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and personification to make their stories more interesting.

What is figure of speech with examples? ›

Here are a few examples of the different figures of speech in English grammar. Simile – Rachel is as bright as the sun. Metaphor – The whole world is a stage. Personification – The wind whispered in my ears. Apostrophe – O William, you should be living now to see all this.

What is figurative and example? ›

If you say “that news hit me like a ton of bricks,” you are using figurative language; listeners understand the news you got was deeply moving, and also know that you were not actually hit by 2000 pounds of bricks (because if you had been you would be dead).

What are the 10 figurative speech? ›

Some common figures of speech are alliteration, anaphora, antimetabole, antithesis, apostrophe, assonance, hyperbole, irony, metonymy, onomatopoeia, paradox, personification, pun, simile, synecdoche, and understatement.

What are similes examples? ›

Examples of Similes
  • As slow as a sloth.
  • As busy as a bee.
  • As innocent as a lamb.
  • As proud as a peacock.
  • As fast as a cheetah.
  • As blind as a bat.
  • As bold as brass.
  • As cold as ice.

What is personification example? ›

Personification examples

The sun smiled down on us.” 'The story jumped off the page.” “The light danced on the surface of the water.”

What are some examples of imagery? ›

Literal imagery uses descriptive words that mean exactly what they say. For example: “The grass was green, and the flowers were red.” Figurative imagery uses descriptive language that means something different than or goes beyond the literal definition of the words, often through exaggeration, comparison, or symbolism.


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