For many students, figurative language is like a thorn in their side, but it doesn’t have to be. Creative writing assessments, whether they be short stories, poems or anything in between, often require you to include figurative language if you want to achieve the best possible mark.
In this guide, I’ll define what figurative language is and why it’s important. I’ll also explain and give examples of six types of figurative language you can use in your writing.
What is Figurative Language?
Figurative language often requires interpretation. Generally, it involves using words in a way that is meaningful but not factual in order to add creativity to writing or describe something that’s complex. It is considered important because it can help the reader to grasp what the writer is trying to say or to picture it in their head.
Teachers, criteria sheets and syllabuses may use other terms that are similar to figurative language, like language features, literary devices, poetic devices and aesthetic features. Some of these terms are broader than figurative language. For example, figurative language is a type of literary device. Regardless of the different names, knowing the following six types of figurative language will stand you in good stead for the next time you are asked to write something creative.
A simile is a comparison between two things using the word “like” or “as.” The two things being compared are noticeably different and would not normally be associated with one another.
Examples of similes:
The forest is like a graveyard.
The oatmeal was as comforting as a mother’s embrace.
The book was like gravity: it just kept pulling you in.
A metaphor is a direct comparison between two things in which one thing is said to be the other. Unlike similes, metaphors do not use the words “like” or “as.” Instead, they often use words like “is” or “are.”
Examples of metaphors:
Sleeping is heaven.
The shark’s teeth are weapons.
My assignment is a nightmare.
A metaphor is a direct comparison between two things in which one thing is said to be the other.
Personification is when you give human characteristics to something that is not human. It makes the non-human animal, place or thing you’re describing easier for the reader to visualise or relate to. This is because we, as humans, are familiar with the human characteristics that are used in personification.
Examples of personification:
The sun kissed the horizon as it set.
The mirror lied to me as I stared at my reflection.
The Earth begged us to stop it from overheating.
Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that adds emphasis to your writing. Such statements are not factual. Think of a child who really wants or doesn’t want something, and how they may communicate this using exaggerated language to add some drama to the situation.
Examples of hyperbole:
My teacher gave me a tonne of homework.
The cost of living right now is $2 billion dollars.
I haven’t had a break from work in ages.
Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that adds emphasis to your writing.
Alliteration is the use of the same letter or consonant sound at the start of two or more words that are next to or close to each other. It can have a similar effect as rhyming, adding a sense of musicality to your writing.
Examples of alliteration:
I had a putrid piece of pecan pie for afternoon tea.
The green grass grew grey when the grating winter arrived.
An onomatopoeia is a word that describes a sound. Onomatopoeia involves using words that mimic the sounds they describe. For example, think about the noises that animals make and how the words we use to refer to these sounds imitate the sounds themselves.
Examples of onomatopoeia:
Moo, woof, meow, buzz, hoot
Smash, bang, crash, woosh, click, beep, pop
A Guide to Figurative Language Conclusion
When using figurative language, try not to be cliché. Avoid using basic, everyday figurative language that doesn’t truly demonstrate your creativity. An example of a cliché simile is, “I am as cold as ice.”
Hopefully, you’re feeling as happy as a pig in mud (that’s a cliché!) now that you know the ins and outs of figurative language. Try to conjure a picture in your head of what you want your reader to think of when they read your work, and work backward to figure out how you can describe it to them.