What is Figurative language?

If the words “figurative language” make your heart beat as fast as a jackhammer and your hands feel like small icebergs, fear not. This lesson will be painless. You might even find it fun!

Figurative language uses descriptions to paint word pictures, and it is the cornerstone of poetry and fiction. A simile is a type of metaphor that compares two different things, icebergs and hands as in the sentence above. You also encounter it every day in many other forms of communication. Songs, films, news stories, and even conversations with our friends and family are filled with figurative language. Figurative language helps writers and speakers to entertain, persuade, and connect with their audiences. For example, I used figurative language, specifically similes, twice in the first sentence of this lesson. I could have written, “If you don’t like studying figurative language, don’t worry.” However, not only is that a boring way to explain the concept; it doesn’t accurately describe the way many students feel when they face figurative language!

In this lesson, you will learn how to recognize the literary devices of simile and metaphor and understand their roles in poetry and fiction.

An image of flowers that look like fluffy pink explosions. A poem is written over the flowers: “Pinks and purples, not drowning but waving. Dancing and reminding as I pass them by. A candelabra of purple wallflowers: shooting fireworks in the sky in a blaze of mixed up metaphors.”

Source: “Firework Flowers,” Joanna Paterson, Flickr