Figurative Language


Figurative language is very extensive as a linguistic tool. It implies using certain patterns of speech, which convey an alternative meaning to a word, different from its original literal definition. Figurative speech is prevalent in both literary pieces and everyday conversations. Oftentimes, we use it in regular interactions without even realizing it. In literary works, it requires the reader to be familiar with a certain context or some specific details and nuances in order to understand it.

Because figurative language is such a broad linguistic phenomenon, it includes numerous literary tools. They can be phonological, orthographic, lexical, and so on. The main forms, in which figurative language can develop, are:

  • hyperbole, which implements deliberate exaggeration;

  • simile, meaning a comparison, which involves using the words “like” or “as”;

  • metaphor, which implies a comparison without using any additional connective words;

  • personification, which means transferring the human characteristics to animals, objects, and other inanimate phenomena;

  • symbolism, which is implemented when a certain object is supposed to represent something else, conveying a deeper meaning;

  • understatement, which implies a deliberate minimization of the significance of someone or something;

  • paradox, meaning putting two contradictory objects or ideas in the close proximity, creating an obvious incompatibility;

  • allusion, which involves making a reference between two characters, objects, or concepts, which oftentimes are completely different and unrelated;

  • metonymy, which names one object by the name of the other one;

  • oxymoron, which is another type of juxtaposing two contradictory objects;

  • pun, a wordplay;

  • onomatopoeia, which implies using the words which phonetically resemble a certain sound the object makes.

Of course, the list of literary tools that belong to the figurative language doesn’t end here, but these are the most prevalent in literary works. Syntactic techniques also belong to this group. For instance, using the double negative for a stronger dramatic effect is also considered a figurative tool.

Because figurative speech includes so many literary concepts and linguistic devices, it can be found in almost any literary piece. The number of reasons why authors use figurative language is quite large. To begin with, figurative patterns of speech allow the writers to explain certain concepts more clearly. When, for instance, using simile and comparing two objects, the reader creates a connection in their mind and can easily understand the characteristics of a certain object. Moreover, when something we’re not familiar with is being described, it’s easier to comprehend the phenomenon by comparing it with something we already have knowledge of.

Figurative speech comes in handy when literal and direct language isn’t enough to convey certain emotions. It helps the author make the text more artistic and express complicated feelings. With the help of this linguistic technique, the writer is able to illustrate his emotions in the clearest way possible.

Another reason to implement figurative speech is to persuade the reader. When the author uses a bright, artistic, emotionally infused language, it is easier to make an impression on the reader and influence them better. Trying to convince someone, both in everyday conversations and literary pieces, is more effective with figurative patterns of speech.

Provoking an emotional response can also be possible with the figurative language. By using symbolism or, let’s say, allusions, the author creates an emotional context, a certain background, which is able to stir the reader’s feelings and make a stronger impact on them.

Because figurative language is an extremely broad concept, the examples of it can be found in numerous literary pieces, regardless of their genre or the time they were written. For instance, in his work “Inferno”, Dante used many linguistic tools in order to make the text seem more compelling to the people of his time. Those literary techniques include numerous allusions, for example, to Virgil, the Roman poet.

Figurative speech patterns are common in poetry. W. Auden in his work called “As I Walked One Evening” used hyperbole to describe the strength of his love. He illustrated his feelings claiming that his love won’t disappear until the ocean dries out and “China and Africa meet”. Here, figurative speech takes a form of deliberate exaggeration, allowing the author to depict his emotions passionately. With the help of hyperbole, the author is able to create a rather vivid image. It helps the reader comprehend the depth of his feelings and can even cause an emotional response.

Shakespeare was quite generous using figurative language in his works, which helped him make a dramatic impact on the reader and reveal the artistic peculiarities of each text. For example, in his play “Julius Caesar”, he used metonymy and substituted the simple word “listen” with the uncommon “lend me your ears”. Here, figurative speech serves to create a stronger connection with the reader. It also helps the character, Marc Antony, establish a connection with his audience. Moreover, it allows the author to make his and the character’s appeal sound more emotional, thus conveying a message more effectively.