What Is a Figure of Speech? (with Examples)
Figure of SpeechA figure of speech is an expression whose words are not used in their literal sense. A figure of speech is often used to portray an idea more clearly or more interestingly.
The most common types of figures of speech are metaphors, similes, idioms, personification, hyperbole, and euphemisms.
A Broader Definition of Figure of SpeechSome sources do not differentiate between "a figure of speech" and figurative language. As the term "figurative language" includes techniques that might employ the literal meanings of words (e.g., alliteration, assonance, consonance, logosglyphs, onomatopoeia), an alternative definition for "figure of speech," under this broader definition, is "the use of words in an unusual or imaginative manner."
Read more about figurative language.
Examples of Figures of SpeechHere are some examples of figures of speech. These examples employ words in their non-literal meanings:
MetaphorA metaphor asserts that one thing is something that it literally is not. For example:
- This bedroom is a prison.
- He's a real gannet.
- He listened with a stone face.
- We don't need dinosaurs in this company.
SimileA simile likens one thing to another (usually achieved by the use of the word "like" or "as"). For example:
- He eats like a gannet.
- This sandwich tastes like sawdust between two doormats.
- She sings like an angel.
- It's like water off a duck's back.
- The tide waits for no man.
- My car tends to give up on long hills.
- Summer's healing rays
HyperboleHyperbole is an exaggeration or extravagant statement used for effect. For example:
- I have a million problems.
- We won a tonne of cash.
- I'll die if I don't finish this crossword.
IdiomAn idiom is commonly used expression whose meaning does not relate to the literal meaning of its words. For example:
- Be careful not to miss the boat.
- This is the last straw.
- You can't pull the wool over my eyes.
- Don't sit on the fence. Say what you mean.
EuphemismA euphemism is the use of agreeable or inoffensive words to replace rude or offensive ones. For example:
- kicked the bucket = has died
- knocked up = is pregnant
- letting you go = you're fired
- lost his marbles = is mad
MetonymsA metonym is a term used in place of a closely related term. For example:
- Tongue = language
- Sweat = hard work.
- Capitol Hill = American seat of government
- took to the bottle = took to alcohol
- my word = my promise
- a suit = business executive, a lawyer (typically)
Why Should I Care about Figures of Speech?Often a figure of speech will be an analogy that frames a point as something else in order to explain it. Typically, the comparison is something simpler, more familiar, or more graphic. Such analogies bring writing to life by adding clarity, emphasis, bias, or interest.
A figure of speech can be useful for explaining a new or complex idea by relating it to something familiar.
- During interphase, the protein binds to DNA with its elbow and then digs in with its fingers during mitosis. (Professor Leonie Ringrose)
- Team, we must throw a party in our guests' mouths. Got it?
(To "throw a party in our guests' mouths" is more impactful and inspiring than "our food needs to be tasty.")