To get a better understanding of figurative language, let’s look at some common figurative sayings:
“Sam is a pig!”
This is an example of figurative language.
This sentence does not mean that Sam is actually an animal.
This sentence is a figure of speech meaning that Sam is very messy and does not have good manners.
“Beth let the cat out of the bag
about Lisa’s surprise party.”
This is another example of figurative language.
This sentence does not mean that Beth had a cat in a bag and let it out.
Native English speakers understand this sentence is figurative language meaning that Beth told Lisa the secret about the surprise party.
Figurative or Literal
To truly understand figurative language, you must first understand the terms “figurative” and “literal.”
If a statement is “literal” it is true. You can believe every word. When you say something “literally,” you mean exactly what you say.
She looks beautiful in her red dress!
This is a literal statement because the writer thinks the lady looks beautiful. The writer is simply stating that she looks beautiful.
He is a very big man.
This is a literal statement. The writer means that the man is big and strong.
These statements are literal and can sometimes be boring! To add interest, writers often write in a figurative way.
“Figurative” is the opposite of “literal.” You do not believe a figurative statement word for word. When you say something “figuratively,” you are usually making a comparison to give a description or make a point.
She looks like a million dollars!
This is a figurative statement, because a person can’t really look exactly like money. The statement means that she is well dressed and looks beautiful.
He is as big as an elephant!
This is also a figurative statement because a person cannot be as big as an elephant. The statement means he is very large. The writer compares the man to an elephant to help the reader visualize the large, strong man!
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