Let’s have a look at a few types of figurative language. You are probably aware that figurative language is used in poetry and fiction stories; however, figurative language creeps into news items, magazine stories, and even academic papers, too! (Note the previous sentence uses personification.)
Using figurative language effectively makes descriptions more vivid and memorable. It adds enormous enjoyment to the reading experience as well.
Metaphor: compares two things by directly referring to one thing by mentioning another
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.”
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
“Dying is a wild night and a new road.”
Simile: compares to things by using the word “like” or “as”
“Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.”
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
“The water made a sound like kittens lapping.”
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
As blind as a bat.
As stubborn as a mule.
Both metaphor and simile compare things that at first glance are quite different, but there is some aspect that compares well and that gives the reader a clearer picture of the scene, item, or character.
Personification: giving animals or inanimate objects the qualities of people (persons).
The sun stared down on the crowd below.
The smell of fresh-baked pies welcomed us into the house.
The city that never sleeps.
Alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words.
Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street
Acquainted With the Night by Robert Frost
Assonance: the repetition of vowel sounds.
The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain. (Repetition of long a sound)
My Fair Lady
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. (Repetition of long e sound)
Onomatopoeia: words that imitate the sounds they describe
Hyperbole: an extreme exaggeration in a statement or figure of speech
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten the little hand.
The ship battled waves mountains high.
I have a million things to do today.
Litotes: a form of understatement often expressed ironically by negating its contrary
He is not the brightest man in the world.
It’s not too bad.
Oxymoron: a description using two opposite ideas to create an effective description.
Silent scream Jumbo shrimp
Found missing Growing smaller
Old news Open secret
Synecdoche: a term for the part of something is used for the whole
Boots on the ground. (Boots representing people.)
Paper or plastic. (Paper/plastic representing the bag types.)
Let me know what your favourite figurative language device is or your favourite simile, metaphor, oxymoron, and so forth. The next time you are reading, watch for the use of these various techniques. You might be surprised at how often they are used. Of course, paying attention to the common phrases and sayings we use in speaking every day that fall into one of these categories can also be a surprise.