5 Types of Figurative Language With Examples

By: Marie Look  | 
If this is a foreign concept for you, get excited: Understanding figurative language can significantly improve your writing. Maskot / Getty Images

Figurative language is a cornerstone of expressive writing. Unlike literal language, which conveys information plainly and directly, figurative language introduces an imaginative spark, offering the reader new ways to view ideas and emotions.

Writers can use different types of figurative language, depending on what they want to express. Read on for examples and to learn how these techniques add depth and complexity to writing.


What Is Figurative Language?

Figurative language refers to phrases or words that deviate from their conventional or literal meaning to communicate a more complicated and often more powerful message. Figurative language enriches our everyday speech and writing, transforming plain sentences into vivid expressions that resonate with listeners and readers.

Figurative language appears throughout English literature. Writers use figurative language to convey complex ideas and emotions or to make their writing more engaging. By moving beyond the literal meaning of words, authors can paint pictures in the reader's mind, evoke feelings and connect with their readers on a deeper level.


Whether through a simile's direct comparison or the extreme exaggeration of hyperbole, these words and techniques empower writers to describe the indescribable, connecting words to the vast realm of human experiences.

5 Types of Figurative Language

There are several different types of figurative language, each one useful for a different situation and purpose.

1. Simile

A simile is a direct comparison between two things that uses the words "like" or "as." It is a great example of how figurative language can create a vivid image for the reader.


For instance, saying "her smile was as bright as the sun" not only describes the brightness of her smile but also conveys a sense of warmth and happiness.

2. Metaphor

Metaphors make implicit comparisons between two unlike things, meaning the writer implies or suggests they are alike in a significant way without using the words "like" or "as."

For example, in the phrase "time is a thief," the writer compares time and a thief to suggest that time, like a thief, can steal life's moments. Unlike similes, which make their comparisons explicit, metaphors do so implicitly.

3. Personification

Personification involves giving human qualities to inanimate objects or nonliving things. Writers use this literary device to add emotion and lifelike human characteristics to nonhuman elements. For instance, saying "the wind howled throughout the night" attributes the human action of howling to the wind.

4. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration used for emphasis. A common expression like "I've told you a million times" does not literally mean a million but suggests a high frequency to emphasize the speaker's frustration.

Like other figurative language types, a hyperbole can also produce a comic effect if the writer chooses to use the sentence that way.

5. Idiom

Idioms are culturally specific expressions whose meanings cannot be deduced from the literal meanings of the words they contain.

For example, "Wall Street" is not merely a street but a metonym for the financial industry in the United States. Another idiom, "new wheels," refers to a new car, relying on the reader's cultural knowledge to grasp the implicit meaning.


5 Figurative Language Examples

These figurative language examples express ideas more vividly and creatively than literal language could.

  1. "Her cheeks are red like a rose." This simile compares the color of her cheeks to a rose, suggesting a vibrant red hue.
  2. "The world is a stage." This metaphor is a line by William Shakespeare, a master of the English language and creative expression. It suggests that life is like a play in which everyone has a part to perform.
  3. "The wind whispered through the trees." This personification attributes the human action of whispering to the wind. When a writer assigns human abilities to nonliving entities, it can go a long way toward affecting the mood of a scene.
  4. "I've been waiting forever." This hyperbole exaggerates the length of time the speaker has been waiting, suggesting a very long time to emphasize impatience or frustration.
  5. "Break a leg." This idiom is usually a way to wish someone good luck, especially before a performance, without directly mentioning luck. However, these words could also be a threat, demonstrating how certain phrases can have different meanings depending on the speaker's intention.


Writing Figurative Language

To write figurative language effectively, it’s crucial to consider the context and the intended audience. Think about what emotional or sensory impact you want your text to have. Also, consider the overall tone of your writing.

It's important to use figurative language sparingly to avoid overwhelming the reader and to maintain clarity and impact where it is most effective. This can prevent your prose from becoming overloaded with decorations that may distract or confuse the reader.


Lastly, choosing the right type of figurative language is also important. This allows you to vividly convey complex ideas and emotions, making your writing more relatable and memorable for the reader. Using it well can pique a reader's interest and hold their attention.

Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, Zora Neale Hurston, and other literary giants excelled at using figurative language to evoke specific atmospheres and emotions, crafting memorable lines that resonate through the ages.

One of the best-known uses of figurative language is Shakespeare's depiction of life: "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."

We created this article in conjunction with AI technology, then made sure it was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.