Figure of Speech

by Craig Shrives

What Is a Figure of Speech? (with Examples)

A figure of speech is an expression whose words are not used in their literal sense. For example:
  • Jack has a few skeletons in the cupboard.
  • (This means "Jack has a few secrets." It is a figure of speech. The words are not used in their literal sense. In other words, Jack does not literally have any skeletons in his cupboard.)
  • You are driving me up the wall.
  • (This means "You are annoying me." It is a figure of speech.)
A figure of speech is 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.

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Figures of Speech
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Personification
  • Hyperbole
  • Idiom
  • Euphemism
  • Metonyms
  • Why Figures of Speech Are Important
  • Printable Test
definition of figure of speech with examples

Examples of Figures of Speech

Here are some examples of figures of speech. These examples employ words in their non-literal meanings:


A 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.
Read more about metaphors.


A 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.
Read more about similes.


Personification is when non-human objects are given human traits. For example:
  • The tide waits for no man.
  • My car tends to give up on long hills.
  • Summer's healing rays
Read more about personification.


Hyperbole 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.
Read more about hyperbole.


An 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.
Read more about idioms.


A 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
Read more about euphemisms.


A 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)
Read more about metonyms. 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.

For example:

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)
There is often a strong sensory element to a figure of speech (e.g., creating a vivid image in your readers' minds), and this can help to make your writing more memorable and impactful.
  • Team, we must throw a party in our guests' mouths. Got it?
      Yes, chef.
      Yes, chef.
      Yes, chef.
      Yes, Geoff.
    Did someone just call me Geoff? (Comedian Chris Wells)
  • (To "throw a party in our guests' mouths" is more impactful and inspiring than "our food needs to be tasty.")

A Broader Definition of Figure of Speech

Some 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.

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