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Figurative Language versus Literal Language Expository Essay

Figurative language is the language used by literary artists in their work. It is different from literal language in that its meaning is deeper and is not understood easily. In addition, it has the capacity to communicate better than literal language.

It is important for readers to understand the use of figurative language in literary works for them to appreciate the works well. Figurative language involves the use of idioms, metaphors, similes and colloquialism among others.

An idiom is defined as an expression comprising of two or more words with a hidden meaning. The meaning of an idiom is beyond the words and cannot be understood by merely interpreting the words.

An example of an idiom is breaking a leg which is usually used in performances to wish the performers good luck before they go on stage. This idiom may be misunderstood when it is used in a situation where an accident has occurred (Grindon, 2010).

Analogy is the comparison of two different things to show their similarities. An example of analogy is bringing together two things which are not similar like a camera and the eye.

The eye is obviously different from a camera but the two can be compared to show the similarities. The appropriate use of the analogy is to show how the eye is similar to a camera. This comparison can be misunderstood when a comparison showing the differences between the two is made.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that involves replacing one concept with another with the intention of making a comparison. An example of a metaphor is planting a seed which means introducing a new idea to a person with confidence that he will act upon the idea.

The appropriate use of this metaphor is simply comparing new ideas with the planting of a seedling. It may be misunderstood when people expect the physical planting of a seedling followed by watering it.

A simile is a figure of speech that involves comparison of two unlike things by introducing the comparison with the words like and as. An example of a simile is as busy as a bee.

The appropriate use of the simile is using it when explaining something that involves a lot of activity and great effort. The simile may be misunderstood when it is used in referring to activities that do not require much effort (Grindon, 2010).

A cliché is an expression that has been overused until it loses its meaning. Clichés can be figurative or literal and they should be avoided. An example of a cliché is ‘the writing is on the wall.’ The appropriate circumstances under which this cliché can be used is when referring to something that is about to happen. It might be misunderstood when a speaker uses it to make reference to something that is not likely to happen.

Amphiboly is a sentence construction that allows for different interpretations. In other words, it is an ambiguous sentence that has more than one meaning. For example, the statement ‘the tourists visited our country and recorded films of some wild animals, but they got lost.’

In this statement, it is not clear whether the word ‘they’ refers to the tourists or the films although it is meant to refer to the films. Ambiguous statements may be misunderstood when a pronoun that seems to refer to two entities is used (Grindon, 2010).

A flame word is a word that is intended at insulting somebody during an argument in order to heighten the argument. For example, telling somebody that he is a ‘bloody fool’ is a flame word. Flame words are used appropriately when the person using them knows exactly how they will affect the targeted person. They can be misunderstood if the recipient does not relate them with his experiences.

Hyperbole is the use of deliberate exaggeration in order to emphasize something or make a point. For example, by saying that I have a million functions to attend today is hyperbolical. It is common knowledge that nobody can attend a million functions in a single day but this is done for purposes of emphasis. The appropriate use of hyperbole is when an individual is emphasizing the importance of a certain point. This statement can lead to misunderstanding when it is used in serious situations that do not require unnecessary exaggeration (Abrahams & Harpham, 2011).

Euphemism is the act of using a word or phrase that is considered mild or less offensive instead of using an offensive or harsh phrase. For example, saying that one is of humble looks instead of saying he is ugly.

The correct circumstances for using euphemism are when the speaker has to mention something that is considered offensive. In such situations, the speaker uses less offensive words to explain the same thing. Euphemisms may lead to misunderstanding when a group of people uses a language with too many offensive words.

Colloquialism is the use of informal phrases in casual communication rather than in formal communication. An example of a colloquial expression is as old as the hills.

These are common expressions used in everyday life. Colloquialisms are used appropriately when people are involved in normal everyday conversations. They can be misunderstood when they are used in formal situations and taken seriously by the audience (Abrahams & Harpham, 2011).

Figurative language is a special use of language employed by literary artists. It deviates from the normal language by using comparisons, exaggeration and other communication techniques which are not understood directly.

Such expressions make figurative language special and appealing. It is important for the language to be used appropriately because if used wrongly, it may lead to misunderstandings.


Abrahams, M., & Harpham, G. (2011). A Glossary of Literary Terms. Boston: Cengage Learning.

Grindon, L. (2010). Figurative Language:. New York: BiblioBazaar.

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1. IvyPanda. "Figurative Language versus Literal Language." March 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/figurative-language-versus-literal-language/.


IvyPanda. "Figurative Language versus Literal Language." March 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/figurative-language-versus-literal-language/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Figurative Language versus Literal Language." March 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/figurative-language-versus-literal-language/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Figurative Language versus Literal Language'. 28 March.

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