What is figurative language?

Figurative language gives meaning and emphasis to our writing and speech. In this guide, we look at different kinds of figurative language and how to use it – with lots of examples!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
November 29, 2023

What is figurative language?

Figurative language gives meaning and emphasis to our writing and speech. In this guide, we look at different kinds of figurative language and how to use it!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
Nov 29, 2023

What is figurative language?

Figurative language gives meaning and emphasis to our writing and speech. In this guide, we look at different kinds of figurative language and how to use it – with lots of examples!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
Nov 29, 2023

Key takeaways

  • Figurative language is found in many places, from Shakespeare’s plays to TV adverts!
  • Figurative language, meaning not strict or precise language, is a non-literal way of writing or speaking
  • There can be more than one type of figure of speech within a piece of figurative writing or speaking

Have you ever felt emotional when reading? Maybe you read a piece of writing that described someone or something who was excited, scared or sad.

Have you ever perfectly imagined a scene from a book or poem, even though there were no pictures?

Have you ever heard a joke that made you laugh your head off?

If you’ve had any of these experiences, chances are, you’ve enjoyed figurative language!

We use figurative language to create compelling, gripping or inspiring writing.

It’s also a great way to deliver a complicated idea in a concise way.

We also use it in our day-to-day speech, films, television, news broadcasts and songs. Figurative language is everywhere!

What is figurative language?

That all sounds really exciting, but what exactly is figurative language?

Figurative language is as broad a term as the ocean. It’s like an endless desert in a terrific sandstorm where each grain of sand is a figure of speech. Figurative language is the butter to the bread of poets and comedians, the cherry on the cake to songwriters and is a style that is as old as the mountains.

But how to spot it? Hmmm… See what I did there?

The above paragraph is a medley of different types of figurative language. Chances are that you could tell something was special about that paragraph even if you weren’t sure exactly what it was.

Figurative language makes text seem more elaborate and descriptive – more like an old-timey wizard is sitting on a rock and talking to you.

If I were to say:

  • I ran the race faster than my classmates, at a speed of 15 mph.

OR

  • I ran the race as fast as my legs could carry me, my heart pounding from my chest like a beating drum. I was a cheetah, bounding the savannah of the sports field, my classmates a blur as I whistled past them.

Which example do you think is literal and which figurative?

Which example of writing do you feel evokes more emotion, imagery, or a stronger comparison?

The first (literal) example gives us the information we need to understand what actually happened.

The second (figurative) example is brimming with figures of speech. Our hearts are not drums, we are not cheetahs and a regular sports field is nothing like the savannah.

We know all these things, but we also understand they are meant figuratively rather than literally. They are intended to paint a picture in our minds of that race, how the person felt and the speed that they ran.

Remember: Figurative language has lots of crossovers, it might be that you read a figure of speech and see that it has several types of figurative language inside it – it doesn’t have to be one or the other!

If you want some help learning more about KS2 figurative language, be sure to download our English app!

Figurative language definition

Figurative language is a way to express ourselves using words that should not be taken as their literal meaning, but give an implication of a comparison or exaggeration.

Figurative language is usually styled to give a strong emotion when we read it, or bring up an image in our minds.

Explore figurative language with DoodleEnglish

Want to have a go at some questions? DoodleEnglish is an app that’s filled with thousands of interactive exercises covering reading, grammar, spelling and more!

Designed to be used for 10 minutes a day, it creates each child a unique learning experience tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills. Try it free today!

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Figurative language examples

There are many types of figurative language, so it helps to give them names so that we can talk about them easily and learn how to use them in our writing or speech. 

Let’s look at seven figurative language examples.

These include: similes, metaphors, onomatopoeias, alliteration, personification, hyperbole and idioms.

If you aren’t sure which each one means, you can click the name of the type of figurative language and go to a new page to learn all about it.

Use this page to help you remember when you get stuck, or if you want to write some examples of your own.

Right, let’s GO!

Similes

Similes are used to make a comparison between one thing and another. 

We can usually spot a simile because they use the words ‘as’ or ‘like’.

Similes are great ways to use in our writing when we want to describe something without using a long list of adjectives.

Simile examples:

  • The boy was as hungry as a hippopotamus.
  • The days of summer pass like the ocean tide.
  • The cat stalks his brother like a spy in the shadows.
  • My Mum was as excited as a kangaroo for her birthday.
 
Take a look at our handy guide to similes if you’d like to see more examples!

Metaphors

Metaphors are a type of figurative language that make a figurative comparison too. However, they say something is something else.

Rather than comparing two similar things (simile), a metaphor is when something is stated to be something else.

We use metaphors in our writing to make a stark comparison, they are more to the point and direct than a simile.

Remember: Not every metaphor contains the word ‘is’. They might contain; is, of, was, were – words that connect the sentence and state that one thing is another.

Metaphor examples:

  • You are a rose with petals and thorns!
  • That cat is a swamp monster.
  • This year has been a washing machine.
  • He had the smile of a thousand sharks.
 
If you’d like to find out more about metaphors, be sure to check out our metaphor guide!

Onomatopoeia

An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds the same as the noise that it describes. WOW that’s a mouthful!

To simplify, an onomatopoeia is best spotted by reading the word out loud. 

If in doubt, try it with an exclamation on the end of the word – it will help you spot it.

We use onomatopoeias to represent a sound in our writing. 

Examples of onomatopoeias:

  • Bang!
  • Woof
  • Meow
  • Slam!
  • Yawn
  • Gulp
  • Sneeze
  • Clap!

Alliteration

Alliteration is a figure of speech that gives rhythm to a sentence.

Alliteration is when the first letter or sound of a word is similar to the one before it or others in the same sentence.

We use alliteration in poetry, songs, tongue-twisters, advertising and creative writing. 

Alliteration examples:

  • Graham Goose glared at his girlfriend Gertie because she had a gander at Greg.
  • Vietnam is a vivacious country full of virtue, valleys and very varied vegetable noodles!
  • I never know if I’ll need new knickers after my fortnightly nightmares.
  • Tony the Tom Cat tucked in to twelve of Tigger’s turkeys last Tuesday, it was terribly tumultuous.
  • Please pass the pie Petunia, I’m feeling rather peckish and your pies are positively perfect!

Personification

Personification is used to give human characteristics to an animal or a non-human object.

We can also use personification to describe personal attributes to animals, objects and places too!

Personification helps readers to connect with the characters and places in a piece of writing.

When we use personification, it often has a simile or a metaphor within it too!

Examples of personification:

  • The moon smiled down at the cricket as he played his violin.
  • The washing machine rumbled like Grandad’s laugh from the kitchen.
  • Storms raged across the desert, hurling lightning rods into the sand.
  • The bus yawned and then trundled to a slow stop. ‘Easy, easy Little Bus’, said the driver as he patted the steering wheel. The bus had given up for the day, and the driver knew it was time for tea.

Hyperbole

Hyperbole is when we use exaggeration in a sentence or phrase.

We use hyperbole to exaggerate the way we, or a character, feels. Is not meant to be taken literally, but more as an emphasis to explain a strong feeling.

Examples of hyperbole:

  • I’m so hungry I could eat four elephants.
  • I’ve told you this a million times over!
  • I love you more than all of the stars in the sky.
  • My hands are going to fall off after all this writing.
  • My eyes are turning square from watching all these YouTube videos.

Idioms

Idioms are usually widely known expressions used to explain common thoughts or feelings.

Idioms are a type of figurative language that is different in all languages across the globe, and even different in local towns and villages – depending on the common animals, foods, natural occurrences or history of a country – so it can be really fun to learn them!

Idioms are sometimes so old that we don’t even remember why we say them! But we still understand what they mean, because we hear them so often throughout our lives.

Examples of idioms:

  • It’s raining cats and dogs.
  • Break a leg.
  • When pigs fly.
  • Wild goose chase.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • It takes two to tango.

Figurative language in KS2

Figurative language in KS2 teaches you how to recognise the different terms for types of figurative language and how to use them within your writing. 

KS2 figurative language lessons should help you to understand how and when to use it in your writing and speech. 

You should be able to recognise figurative language within a text and say what kind of figurative language is being used, using the terms we have explained on this page.

Figurative language in KS2 should enable you to clarify and understand different types of figurative language, and spot meanings within the text.

By the end of KS2, you should be able to discuss types of figurative language used within text, and evaluate how and why an author used them and their impact on readers.

Summary

Wowzers! Take a look at everything you’ve just learned! 

Don’t worry in the slightest if this isn’t all perfectly in your brain like a catalogue of imaginary figures. Learning is about learning, not remembering everything straight away.

Use this page to help you remember when you need to. If in doubt, refer back. Learning is supposed to be fun, not mind-boggling!

If you’d like to learn more about figurative language, be sure to check out our English app. It’s filled with thousands of fun, interactive exercises and games that explore the whole English curriculum!

Try DoodleEnglish for free!

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Jessica Milner

Jessica Milner

This decade is a super exciting one for EdTech, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle of it. I've used green screens as an English teacher in Vietnam, written children’s books that wow and motivate, been the head scriptwriter for a popular children's EdTech app and been an all-dancing-all-singing online teacher! I believe in making education inviting and accessible to all. My ethos is: we're all different and we all learn differently, so why not lay out a smorgasbord of educational treats and dig in!

Jessica Milner

Jessica Milner

This decade is a super exciting one for EdTech, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle of it. I've used green screens as an English teacher in Vietnam, written children’s books that wow and motivate, been the head scriptwriter for a popular children's EdTech app and been an all-dancing-all-singing online teacher! I believe in making education inviting and accessible to all. My ethos is: we're all different and we all learn differently, so why not lay out a smorgasbord of educational treats and dig in!

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