Figurative language is when the meaning of a phrase or sentence goes beyond the literal meaning of the words. A common expression, “the world is my oyster” does not literally mean that planet earth belongs to a person who thinks it part of his seafood platter.
If we were to take this saying at a literal level, it would be ridiculous and obscene. However, if we looked at this saying from a figurative level, as it is intended, then it makes far more sense. The figurative meaning of “the world is my oyster” is that a person has the freedom and ability to do as he pleases.
Now that we understand the meaning of figurative language, let’s look at some types of figurative language.
A metaphor is an expression which makes a comparison between two things that share a common characteristic. Remember that a metaphor is a figurative device so we do not read the expression literally. For example, “he has the heart of the lion” is a comparison between a man and a beast whom both share the characteristic of bravery.
A simile is very similar to a metaphor, they are both expressions that compare. However, in a simile “like” or “as” are used. For example, “he is as brave as a lion” or ” he is brave like a lion”.
Personification is when human attributes are given to non-human objects. We use personification when we want our readers to feel connected to the object or that it has the ability to behave in the way a human would. For example, ‘the flowers danced in the breeze”.
A hyperbole is an exaggeration not meant to be taken literally. For example, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”
Symbolism is when we use symbols to represent ideas or qualities by them meaning other than their literal use. For example, a dove is the symbol of peace; the colour black is symbolic of death and evil.
Some sound devices are also viewed as figurative language because they give a new perspective on the word such as:
Is the repetition of a sound or letter at the beginning of closely connected words. For example, “the snake slithers silently in the long grass.”
Onomatopoeia is the formation of a word by imitating the sound made by or associated with its referent. For example, “meow” or “honk”.